The drums of war are beating again, as if they ever really stopped. Our leaders and their lapdog media partners are trying to build Iran and North Korea into imminent threats, giving us an excuse to preemptively start new military actions.
What I haven’t heard is any discussion about the costs. I suppose that when your nation is the world’s reserve currency and your central bank can literally print free money, we don’t think much about that. But in fact the costs would be enormous. And before we start charging over the hill, killing millions so we can “free” them, it’s worth considering the costs of our military adventurism since 9/11.
The Financial Cost
We can start with the financial costs, which are staggering. According to a researcher at Brown University, we’ve spent – or committed to spend – $4.79 trillion through 2016 just on Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan! She breaks it out as follows:
Costs to Date
- DOD and State (Overseas Contingency Operations or OCO), FY 2001-2016: $1,742 billion
- Other War-Related: estimated additional DOD base budget ($733 B) and Veterans ($213 B) spending, FY 2001-2016: $946 billion
- Homeland Security spending for prevention and response to terrorism, FY 2001-2016: $548 billion
- Interest on borrowing for wars, FY 2001-2016: $453 billion
- Estimated Future Obligations for Veterans Medical and Disability 2017-2053: $1,000 billion
- FY2017 Request for DOD and State OCO, including Afghanistan, Iraq/Syria: $66 billion
- FY2017 Request for Homeland Security for prevention and response to terrorism: $37 billion
Note that these numbers don’t include some of our other military campaigns, like our work in countries like Libya and Niger, though we’re involved there and other places as well.
It’s encouraging that this researcher looked at the cost of veteran care, because that’s often overlooked when calculating such costs. And it’s a great segue into looking at the human costs of these efforts.
The Human Cost (US)
The Department of Defense publishes a regular casualty report, broken out by mission; according to this report, our Mideast adventure has resulted in the deaths of 6,947 service members and the wounding-in-action of an additional 52,644.
And apparently, these numbers are cherry-picked to minimize the apparent cost. Other researchers have noted that they ignore the deaths of private contractors – estimated at 6,900 as of 2015 – and that they do not account for the high number of deaths at home of veterans from those campaigns, many as a result of drug overdoses, vehicle crashes, or suicide. And the wounded-in-action number severely undercounts the number of people suffering the effects of war, either from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or from long-term effects of toxic chemical exposure for example. Before they stopped publishing regular updates, the Veterans Administration reported (via the Brown University report) 970,000 former service members signing up for disability-related treatment.
That is a terrible choice to pay for arguably no gain.
The Human Cost (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria)
Of course, the losses we incurred pale in comparison to the utter devastation we left behind in the countries we “liberated.” If you believe that every life matters – not just every American life – you’ll be appalled at what has happened to the people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
The US government certainly doesn’t want you to know about it. According to the ACLU:
Since U.S. troops first set foot in Afghanistan in 2001, the Defense Department has gone to significant lengths to control and suppress information about the human cost of war. It banned photographers on U.S. military bases from covering the arrival of caskets containing the remains of soldiers killed overseas. It paid Iraqi journalists to write positive accounts of the U.S. war effort. It invited U.S. journalists to “embed” with military units but required them to submit their stories to the military for pre-publication review; according to some reports, the policy was meant to co-opt the embedded journalists and make independent and objective reporting more difficult. It has erased journalists’ footage of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. And it has refused to disclose statistics on civilian casualties. “We don’t do body counts,” General Tommy Franks has said.
Despite their obstruction, however, some information has gotten out about the cost of our wars on those countries. As the nonprofit news center Common Dreams reports:
In their joint report— Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the ‘War on Terror—Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival, and the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War concluded that this number is staggering, with at least 1.3 million lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone since the onset of the war following September 11, 2001.
However, the report notes, this is a conservative estimate, and the total number killed in the three countries “could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.”
Furthermore, the researchers do not look at other countries targeted by U.S.-led war, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and beyond.
Even still, the report states the figure “is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs.
In Iraq, at least 1 million lives have been lost during and since 2003, a figure that accounts for five percent of the nation’s total population. This does not include deaths among the estimated 3 million Iraqi refugees, many of whom were subject to dangerous conditions during this past winter.
Furthermore, an estimated 220,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, note the researchers. The findings follow a United Nations report which finds that civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2014 were at their highest levels since the global body began making reports in 2009.
That’s just the number of deaths in those three countries. It doesn’t include the wounded. It doesn’t include the heart-rending pain to families and communities as fathers, mothers, and children are killed as “collateral damage.” It doesn’t include the damage to infrastructure, or how people suffer when electricity goes out in 120 degree weather. It doesn’t include the impact of our “liberation” on countries like Syria, Libya, or Yemen, where refugee crises and cholera outbreaks are being documented. The impacts of our intervention are, literally and figuratively, incalculable.
North Korea and Iran revisited
Do you know what I say to people who want us to go to war with North Korea or Iran? I say fuck you.
Those countries are only adversaries because we’ve pushed them into that role. North Korea is on war footing in response to our aggression. Remember that we killed between 20-30% of the entire North Korean population during the Korean War, which was never actually declared to be over, coupled with our ongoing grandstanding today (regular military drills, “axis of evil,” etc.). If you had that history, and you saw what happened to countries that didn’t pursue nuclear defense (like Iraq and Libya), wouldn’t you do so to defend yourself? And Iranians’ shouts of “Death to America” might come from two centuries of meddling by the British and US, leading up to the CIA-led overthrow of the democratically elected Mohammed Mosaddegh and our constant saber-rattling since then.
These proposed wars of choice can only bring more financial loss, bloodshed, and pain for people here and there. And besides the military contractors, banks, and power-hungry government officials, there is no gain to be found. Consider the costs, and leave these two countries the hell alone.