The Costs Of War

by Ross Bishop

(Note: Shaman don’t usually get involved in political matters, but this situation is so grievous that I’m called to respond.)

Annapolis graduate and nuclear submarine commander, former President Jimmy Carter famously said, “The United States is the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” We don’t like to see ourselves cast in this light, but the truth is that America, more than any other nation on earth, is the great promoter of violence. War has been a great blessing to the American capitalist war machine and has kept fossil fuels flowing. And we have paid for every barrel of oil with American blood.

By any consideration, war is a horrible thing, unless you are General Dynamics, Raytheon, Halliburton, Boeing, Remington, Lockheed Martin and thousands of other companies who comprise a significant part of the backbone of the American economy.  

American firms dominate the global war industry. Thirteen out of the top 20 defense companies are headquartered in the U.S., collectively generating $178.5 billions in yearly sales of military equipment. The simple fact is that any war zone around the world has been made possible by American businesses.

The amount of money the U.S. has spent on war itself is completely obscene. There is no other way to say it. And for all that money, we have lost every war since the stalemate in Korea. Through this fiscal year (2020), American expenditures for war, including the war in Viet Nam, will total approximately $7.5 trillion* that’s $7,500,000,000,000.

The Department of Defense moves some of its expenditures to other parts of the Federal Budget, but if you bring back things that are normally excluded such as the cost of nuclear weapons, fuel for aircraft and vehicles and veteran’s care, the annual budget for the Department of Defense ($1,254,200,000,000)** is well over 2/3rds of the entire Federal Budget and is creeping up to 3/4ths of the total. Compensation benefits for Vietnam veterans and families alone runs $22 billion a year.

Costs of War author and co-director and Brown professor Catherine Lutz said, “The numbers continue to accelerate, not only because many wars continue to be waged, but also because wars don’t end when soldiers come home. Even if fewer soldiers are dying and the U.S. is spending a little less on the immediate costs of war today, the financial impact is still as bad as, or worse than, it was 10 years ago. . . ”

Jerry Delaney writes: “. . .our ongoing wars since 9/11 have been waged almost entirely on borrowed money. They are credit-card wars, 60 percent funded by U.S. investors, 40 percent by those in other countries. Unlike the other 10 major wars in our history, they are not being paid for as they happen and they are racking up a substantial debt to these foreign countries. . . . the average taxpayer had paid more than $23,000 since 9/11 to fund these wars. . . . So far, the interest payments alone have cost more than $534 billion. . . . because of compound interest, the payments on interest alone will reach a stratospheric $8 trillion by 2053.” ***

But the real cost of any war is in the human toll. The government numbers are that we have been responsible for 4,209,220 deaths (civilian and military) including Viet Nam to the present. The real number is closer to 7 million. Notably, these figures do not include indirect deaths, namely those caused by loss of access to food, water, and/or infrastructure, war-related disease, etc. Indirect deaths are generally estimated to be at least four times higher than conflict deaths, which means we are really talking about a loss of life of somewhere between 16 and 28 million people. And that is just from U.S. actions.

This is an image of a million people. Imagine between 16 to 28 of these as the loss of life because of U.S. military action from Viet Nam to the present.

But for me, what’s even more significant than all these awful numbers, when I see the recruiting ads for the military on tv is the fact that we have lost every war since and including Viet Nam. And if you really want go back, the War in Korea ended in a stalemate. But what really gets to me is the rationale used to start these “wars.” Let’s recount:

VIET NAM. The country wanted to go it’s own way and we decided that it shouldn’t go communist. We found a trumped up excuse and barged in. Fourteen years and 58,220 U.S. casualties later, we withdrew in defeat and the country became communist anyway.

Viet Nam was the most heavily bombed country in history. In all of WWII, U.S. planes dropped 2.1 million tons of bombs. In Viet Nam more than 6.1 million tons of bombs were dropped plus 20 million gallons of herbicide.

IRAQ. We didn’t like the country’s dictator, so Dick Cheney invented the fable that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. We proceeded to invaded the country – twice! After 15 years we had lost 4,424 dead and 31,052 wounded. Iraqi deaths were put at over 2.4 million. Today the Iraqi government and society have been totally taken over by Iran and the people want nothing to do with America, but V.P. Dick Cheney’s company, Halliburton, did make $39.5 billion off the war.

AFGHANISTAN. We wanted to pursue the organization that had embarrassed us by destroying the World Trade Center. It didn’t matter that the Russians, after 9 years of brutal occupation had retreated in complete and total failure . . . . We had to do something! 15 years later and 3,459 military deaths and 20,320 wounded and for the first time 1,720 civilian contractor deaths, plus 31,000 Afghan civilians killed, we are engaged in negotiations so that we can retreat from the country, just as the Russians did, our tails between our legs, once again in defeat.

American University professor David Vine wrote in an op-ed for The Hill: “Don’t we have a responsibility to wrestle with our individual and collective responsibility for the destruction our government has inflicted?” . . . “Our tax dollars and implied consent have made these wars possible. While the United States is obviously not the only actor responsible for the damage done in the post-2001 wars, U.S. leaders bear the bulk of responsibility for launching catastrophic wars that were never inevitable, that were wars of choice.” 

Vine went on, “Consider how we could have otherwise spent that incomprehensible sum—to feed the hungry, improve schools, confront global warming, improve our transportation infrastructure, and provide healthcare.”

*This article is based in part on a pair of reports published by the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.
** Article The Nation, May 7, 2019, “America’s Defense Budget Is Bigger Than You Think.” William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger.
*** ”The Ultimate Cost of Our Endless Wars – Could the debt alone deal a fatal blow to our democracy?” “The American Scholar,” Nov. 20, 2019, by Jerry Delaney

copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2019

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