The cost of America’s warmongering

June 29, 2011 | By | 10 Replies More

President Barack Obama recently suggested that America’s wars had cost $1 trillion. Reuters suggested that Obama is not being forthright:

Staggering as it is, that figure grossly underestimates the total cost of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S. Treasury and ignores more imposing costs yet to come, according to a study released on Wednesday. The final bill will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion

The study referred to is this one, by Costs of War.  Unlike your local newspaper or your local TV news, this is website that pulls no punches. Here are some of the findings:

  • While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (just over 6000), what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars. New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall. Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.
  • At least 137,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.
  • The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the U.S. helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, has taken as many lives as the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
  • Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 225,000.
  • Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons — 7,800,000 — is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.

    How disproportionate has been America’s response to the 9/11 attacks?  Reuters offers this:

    What followed were three wars in which $50 billion amounts to a rounding error. For every person killed on September 11, another 73 have been killed since.


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    Category: Politics, War

    About the Author ()

    Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

    Comments (10)

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    1. Mike M. says:

      This is just more evidence that we're living under a government that is currently operating as an armed asylum. Our leaders appear to be acting like lunatics, and I have to believe that any reasonably awake and mentally healthy person would see these statistics as a clinical pathology…a cultural sickness and cognitive malfunction. Just imagine the tangible benefits we could be enjoying now if those Three Trillion dollars were not wasted (in my opinion) on overseas wargames and "Death Sciences", and instead were invested into "Life Sciences" such as health research, clean and renewable energy, environment, education, etc.

      Happy 4th of July everyone.

      • Erich Vieth says:

        Mike M.: Over the past few years, I've come to zero tolerance regarding discretionary warmongering, which was so clearly flagged by Dwight Eisenhower.

        I agree with you, that this problem with American needs to be seen as a terrible social mental disorder. What could we have done with more than three trillion to improve the quality of living in this country? The people making these terrible decisions should thrown in prison for the terrible waste of tax dollars, which has undoubtedly led to thousands of deaths and millions of sustainable jobs, and tens of millions of kids who could have had quality educations. Yet these decision-makers are all mind-numbed and blindered. America's discretionary warmongering is much like a fundamentalist religion. The question is whether we will ever, in my lifetime, be in a position to snap out of it.

    2. It's even more cracked and broken than you suggest, Erich, because…

      Something that I learned about government budget allocations long ago that points to the problem but doesn't quite explain it. It's the principle of spend it or lose it. Agencies and programs spend everything they can of their allocation because if they don't, next year they'll get less. There is no "savings account" into which unspent funds can be stored against future expenses.

      But what this indicates is an aspect of our entire economy that is underappreciated and downright Kafkaesque—if you cut a program with an expectation that the money can then be funneled elsewhere, you will be disappointed every time. Because the money doesn't work that way with government programs. Cut the program, the money disappears. It only exists as long as the program is there to be funded.

      This is difficult for most people to understand because we don't live this way, but governments do. The government never owes itself money. It creates a program, funding levels are allocated, and the money appears. Cut the program, the money disappears. This is backed by the "full faith and credit" of the taxpayer, of course, but it is not a direct one to one connection.

      So when you suggest that we could have done much good with that three trillion spent on war, you must remember that without the war spending, that three trillion would never have existed.

      This is part and parcel of the fiduciary maze that baffles taxpayers and frustrates everyone, conservative and liberal alike. Until we understand that in our bones, all the haggling and angry voting over tax and spend issues will be so much pointless hand waving.

      Remember, it was the spending in WWII that ended the Great Depression, not FDR's social programs. And if the country was in such dire straits then that unemployment was over 20%, where did all that money come from? It appeared with the programs. Had we not paid it off through bond issues, it would not have mattered—we would have floated it as ongoing debt and the recovery would still have been real.

      So don't make observations about shifting moneys from program to program—it never happens. Money appears…and disappears—it does not exist until there is a program for it.

    3. Jim Razinha says:

      "Spend it or lose it" doesn't have to be the rule. The Navy Shore Facilities experienced a radical paradigm shift when we went to zero-based budgeting. But, guess what? It works. I wrote about it back in January '10: We need the Navy in charge of Congress (for budget purposes).

    4. Jim,

      No, it doesn't have to be—but that's the way it works, and because most people, even elected officials, don't understand that, we seem incapable of even imagining a different model. Part of that reimagining is to stop the rhetoric of "that money could be used elsewhere." It's distracting and inaccurate.

    5. Mike M. says:

      But Mark, the real question is why won't the government pro-actively create a clean/renewable energy program (funded at $1 Trillion dollars, at which time the money will "appear" and can be used), and also create an intelligent education program (funded at $1 Trillion dollars, at which time the money will "appear" and can be used), as well as create a thoughtful envoronmental clean-up program (funded at $1 Trillion dollars, at which time the money will "appear" and can be used)?

      Why, year after year, do they instead continue to reactively create programs which kill, destroy, maim, and frighten the wits out of everyone? Therein lies the disturbing cultural pathology and political/social delusion that I alluded to; a delusion beyond all reason which continues to haunt and plague humanity. As Erich asked, when will they (we) "snap out of it"?

    6. Jim Razinha says:

      Mike, why year after year? The entrenched bureaucracy only knows how to do what it does…until someone comes along and changes the focus.

      Political appointees may be largely figureheads (I think the SecDef is an exception, having seen/lived the changes, but I'm not sure about the others), but they are necessary. Otherwise nothing would ever change. But, the problem that goes with them is that the "appointer" changes pretty fast in programming terms. Just when a new program or approach gets started, somebody else comes along and shifts the focus. Back to square zero.

      My (personal blog) post hints at why the Navy was successful – top down (within our segment), overnight, drink the koolaid or else got the job done. And despite discussions to the contrary on this site, the military has budgetary limits.

      The federal government does not.

      Force a balanced budget and you force people to think of ways to cut. Force a targeted cut at insignificant programs such at NPR and those affected will find ways to cut, but the fed won't.

      The military model I not entirely jokingly suggested won't work on the top level because of the brilliance of the separated powers. The President can't tell Congress what to do; nor can Congress tell the Executive.

      Besides, when did the lobbies and Congress ever do something because it was right and good? Clean/renewable energy will never be more than a novelty until the fossils are nearly gone – our (relatively) low costs of energy will see to that.

    7. Mike M.—it's a good question, but what is the consensus of "an intelligent educational system"? Once money is allocated to something, it does appear (as long as Congress allows it to) and once the program is cut it disappears. I was not addressing the reasons behind the programs that get funded or defunded. But the simple answer to your very reasonable query is—we don't agree on any of that stuff.

    8. Mike M. says:

      Ah, hell Mark, you're probably right. I just feel deflated when considering that we may be stuck with inertia on funding programs of life, and perpetuation of bad habits on funding the multi-trillion dollar programs of death. The problem, as you pointed out, is the need for consensus. I'm fairly pessimistic on this front, as political consensus seems to spiral down to the LCD and whichever current band of primates howls the most viciously. What is needed here, and soon, is a radical paradigm shift as hinted at by Jim R., or some sort of epic cultural awakening. But to fall back on a great but worn cliche–it's always the darkest before the dawn. I've learned the "impossible" is possible, and I remain optimistic that in a world of exponentially increasing novelty, information and connectivity we will manage to pull ourselves back from the brink and yes…'snap out of it' within our generation.

    9. helena says:

      My friend cynthia was a editor in the mid-90’s in DC when Condi Rice spoke of invading iraq for oil. My cousin a retired army intelligent officer told me the same. so bush LET 9/11 happen for a excuse to take our innocent brainwashed troops to me murdered in Iraq. its he truth. now Iran. these men that asked questions about iran to the republican contenders for pres. in the latest debate were all Bush’s men who made a phoney case for war in Iraq for profit. Another republican president will take us to another doomed war that will destroy America. Republicans are war hungry.

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