Counting all the costs of war
Public domain image: Photograph of Arlington National Cemetery, Washington D.C. section 33
“War demands sacrifice of the people. It gives only suffering in return.” – Frederic Clemson Howe, a Progressive Era reformer (1867 -1940)
“War does not enable the pursuit of happiness but brings despair and grief.” – Howard Zinn, historian writing about the invasion of Iraq in 2003
On Memorial Day we remember the veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice in our many wars. We should mourn the fallen. We should mourn because they did not die for their country. They did not die for freedom or to protect us from enemies (real or imagined). They died for the failure of the country’s leaders to have the competence, knowledge, or creativity to find ways to resolve conflicts through peaceful means, so the memory of their sacrifice should motivate us to work for peace.
Combat veterans, and their families are victims of war the same as the “enemy” and the many civilian casualties in the war zones. We are all victims of past wars in one way or another. Our leaders’ callousness to the death, injury, destruction and suffering caused by war should be unacceptable to all of us.
We should mourn because the costs of war are seldom worth the price. Contrary to popular belief, our freedom, security, or our way of life have not been secured by war. The endless war on terrorism is only the latest example.
We have been bombing almost continuously in the Middle East since the first Gulf War in 1990. Thirty years of bombing has accomplished nothing but death, destruction and more conflict. Terrorism has not been defeated. Worldwide, the number of terrorist groups and terrorist attacks are increasing. No country is more stable or more democratic, yet we cannot learn from past mistakes or stop repeating the old, failed tactics
The total costs of our post 9/11 wars are high. The Brown University “Cost of War Project” has documented the many costs. Here is a summary.
An estimated 770,000-801,000 people have died due to direct war violence. This includes armed forces on all sides of the conflicts, contractors, civilians, government employees, journalists, and humanitarian workers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen. In addition, an unknown number have died because of disease, starvation, and destruction of water, sewage and health facilities.
The U.S military dead are 7014, and 53,700 have been wounded. U.S contractors account for 7950 deaths. Other NATO forces lost 12,468 soldiers. An estimated 335,000 civilians have died and 37 million people have been displaced.
Since 2001, 2.7 million service members have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Of these veterans, 970,000 suffer from a recognized disability. Many more live with hidden wounds, not given disability status. Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have higher rates of suicide, mental illness, substance abuse, divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, and homelessness than the general population.
Currently less than 1% of the U.S. population is in the military. Out of 2 million active duty and National Guard troops only 150,000 are deployed overseas. The American public is totally disengaged from the country’s wars and its military interventions. And, of course, no one cares about the foreign nationals killed, injured, or displaced.
The total cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is estimated at $6.4 trillion. This includes money spent on the wars, interest on the war related debt, and future costs of veteran’s health care and disability payments.
War and preparation for war consumes over half the annual federal “discretionary budget.” Brown University analysts puts the figure at $934 billion (63%). Other sources say total “national security” spending across multiple agencies is $1.2 trillion out of a $1.485 annual budget (80%). The Department of State is part of this but gets only 3% of the discretionary budget. This disparity between diplomacy and war is telling.
There are main street economic costs to these skewed priorities. This money could have gone to public infrastructure, green energy innovations, economic development, housing, education, health, food, retirement security, and many other human needs.
The wars have been paid for almost entirely by borrowing. This contributes to the federal budget deficit, the national debt, inflation, and higher interest rates.
Spending on human needs produces more jobs than spending on war. Public investment in human needs builds for the future and produces more overall prosperity, security and quality of life for everyone. War spending wastes resources and destroys futures.
Obviously war destroys the environment in war zones. It leaves legacy costs from unexploded ordnance, Agent Orange, deforestation, depleted uranium residues, destroyed water systems, sewage systems, cities, and farmland.
War also contributes to climate change, resource depletion, and species extinction. The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest single consumer of fossil fuels in the world. They produce more climate changing CO2 than many nations. The Military is the largest single creator of Super Fund sites.
Defense contractor profiteering produces waste, fraud, graft and undue political influence. Half of the Department of Defense budget goes to military contractors and most of the money goes to a few huge weapons makers. Military contracting results in exorbitant prices, cost overruns, fraudulent contracts, shoddy work, and “revolving door” conflicts-of-interest between defense contractors and military or government officials. In Iraq and Afghanistan there were more contract employees than troops.
Contracting out military functions threatens democracy and national security. Private, for-profit contractors, and their employees, are loyal to the money and not the nation. Often foreign nationals are hired for combat, security, translation and intelligence gathering. Contractors have a vested interest in perpetuating wars.
Costs to Freedom
War does not protect or enhance freedom, democracy, or civil liberties. In fact, every war has reduced our rights as citizens and increased executive powers. With each war, dissidents have been jailed, freedom of the press restricted, protesters beaten, and men conscripted against their will. Often innocent civilians have been harassed and incarcerated.
Since 9/11, the war on terror has resulted in detention without trial, search without probable cause, torture, government surveillance, and racial and ethnic profiling. War always increases hate and divisions among people.
The history of war makes it clear that fighting for peace is a fool’s game. Fighting for peace is like copulating for chastity (as has been said more crudely many times). War always costs more than predicted. There are no winners. There are only victims and “collateral damage.”