The Human Cost of War

Email Print

The whole world
is watching a human drama that is both tragedy and travesty. As
if the lessons of Vietnam had been presented to dull students and
needed repeating, Americans and peoples of all nations watch as
President George W. Bush’s preemptive and unconstitutional war in
Iraq continues. The cradle of civilization is being turned into
its grave by a president whose undefined “noble cause” has thus
far cost the lives of almost 3000 American soldiers, wounded and
maimed almost 20,000 more, and killed tens of thousands of Iraqis.
The land that nourished the first written language and the roots
of civilized political order has become a charnel house.

The defeated
Iraqi army of Saddam Hussein is no longer the enemy in George Bush’s
unjust war; its place has been taken by insurgent forces, as well
as by al Qaeda and other groups who use the country as a battlefield
and guerrilla training ground for their own troops. Added to the
tragedy in Iraq is the travesty of Bush’s “War on Terror” — a formless
justification for the growth of federal government power and the
steady erosion of our Bill of Rights through warrantless searches,
illegal spying, kidnapping and torture, and imprisonment without
either trial or conviction.

American soldiers
— courageous, dedicated and trained to fight to preserve our freedoms,
and raised to believe in the importance of a virtuous life — are
fighting under Rules of Engagement that permit the use of such destructive
retaliatory force that they cannot avoid the commission of atrocities
against helpless civilians. American Marines — always prepared to
be “the first to fight” and whose motto is “semper fidelis” — are
being used for immoral ends by an administration that has proven
faithless to the people of the country it pretends to represent.

And what has
this corruption of the best of our youth in an immoral military
debacle cost? In trying to answer this question, we submit that
the least significant costs are those that can be quantified. The
most recent and most general attempt to estimate both the direct
and indirect costs of George Bush’s war is that of economists Linda
Bilmes and Joe Stiglitz, who summarized their estimate in a paper
presented at the January 2006 meetings in Boston of the American
Economic Association.

Bilmes and
Stiglitz present a “moderate” estimate of $1.3 trillion for past
and expected federal budget outlays related to this unnecessary
war. This includes military operations, reconstruction, foreign
aid and enhanced base security for the military bases in Iraq. Currently,
the monthly average cost of military operations in both Iraq and
Afghanistan is $7.1 billion — enough in one year of expenditure
to rebuild the city of New Orleans, including levees that would
withstand category 5 hurricanes.

In calculating
their estimate of the total of direct and indirect costs of the
war, Bilmes and Stiglitz include an estimate of the economic value
of American soldiers killed and wounded, and the estimated future
costs of caring for those wounded, while excluding any calculations
of similar costs for other countries, including Iraqi soldiers,
civilians and insurgents killed or wounded. They include the direct
and indirect costs of the American military arms and equipment used
and destroyed, but not that of the destruction to the land and economy
of the Iraqis. They include the increased costs of providing greater
security for military bases, but not the costs of increased counter-intelligence
activities by the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence
Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Bilmes and
Stiglitz admit that they were unable to include most of the economic
costs associated with Bush’s war; for instance, they omit the damage
to international trade and the standard of living in the world as
a consequence of the increased trade barriers imposed in the “War
on Terror.” They omit the economic damage caused by higher prices
for oil because of decreased production in the Middle East, and
the consequent lower production of other goods and services as energy
expenditures replace others in budgeting. They omit the loss of
investment expenditures in the American economy as military spending
replaces domestic spending and interest payments on debt from deficit
spending on the war crowd out business borrowing.

If all economic
costs could be included, Bilmes and Stiglitz speculate that their
estimate of the Iraq war costs would rise to $2.2 trillion. We submit
that this is still too low because it fails to allow for the fact
that military expenditures are expenditures for destruction, not
for the creation of value and increases in the standard of living.
Resources wasted in the destruction of human life and property,
are resources that cannot be used for building houses or feeding
the hungry. It also fails to allow for the demoralization and destruction
of the whole American military establishment that is one of the
seldom-mentioned results of fighting this immoral, pointless and
savage war.

To reach their
cost estimates, Bilmes and Stiglitz had to make a number of restrictive
assumptions, a change in any one of which would greatly change the
results of their calculations. The only unimpeachable fact and undeniably
true statement in their entire paper is a concluding remark that
“the most important things in life — like life itself — are priceless.”
And what do they recommend for the future? Like a slap in the face
of all that is moral and good in humankind and its potential for
greatness, Bilmes and Stiglitz urge BETTER COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS
before undertaking future wars!

How does one
react to the recognition that life is priceless, but a price should
be put upon it for the purpose of deciding whether to make war?
It can only be with outrage. We are outraged that a war should be
considered as anything but a last resort, fought in defense and
after an attack by an organized and dangerous enemy bent on our
destruction or conquest. We are outraged that a pre-emptive and
poorly thought-out invasion of a foreign country was undertaken
under a pretense that was subsequently revealed to be a pack of
lies. We are outraged at the incalculable human cost of the invasion
and occupation of Iraq. We are outraged that human and other resources
desperately needed to respond to the Gulf Coast disaster last fall
were instead in Iraq, being used for the wasting and occupation
of that country.

Outrage is
what Cindy was feeling when she toured the Lower Ninth Ward of New
Orleans in mid-February. Outrage, sorrow, horror and sickness over
the destruction she saw there. A destruction that is both complete
and profound. A destruction that was made worse by poor preparation
at all levels of government. Miles and miles of collapsed houses,
overturned cars and toys alike flung far and wide: miles and miles
of proof of the incompetence and callousness of government.

Cindy was in
New Orleans as people were being kicked out of their subsidized
FEMA housing while hundreds of millions of dollars of “FEMA trailers”
sat in lots and on railroad cars waiting for a place to be parked.
She listened to Richard Skinner of Homeland Security say on CNN
that FEMA is spending “eight to ten million dollars” to spread gravel
on a lot in Arkansas so that the 11,000 trailers that should be
in the Gulf States, but are parked on that lot, won’t sink into
the mud while they sit. She saw hundreds of units of low income
housing in St. Bernard’s Parish that could be rehabilitated with
some sheetrock and paint, but are sitting empty and useless. Hundreds
of residents could return to their homes for what it would cost
for 18 months use of two of those empty trailers — each of which
is estimated by the Times-Picayune to cost as much as $120,000.

Cindy left
New Orleans depressed and missing her son, Casey, even more. Like
other American soldiers, Casey was raised to understand the importance
of a virtuous life. He neither sought, nor wanted, to kill innocent
people in Iraq, and he voiced this often during his last visit home
at Christmas, 2003. On April 4, 2004, he was killed while on a rescue
mission to retrieve wounded comrades in arms. Casey came home to
be buried, as have almost 3000 others in the last three years.

But, what of
those soldiers who come home wounded or unscathed? To what do they
return? They come home to a Veterans Administration that is inadequately
funded for the job it has to do. Too many come home to divorce,
to become homeless, to die by their own hands. Iraq War veterans
come home to a VA that has failed even to provide the benefits due
veterans of the Vietnam War — a war that has since claimed more
veterans through suicide than were killed fighting.



Like the water
that poured over the weak and compromised levees in New Orleans,
the human lives and money that are being poured into the sands of
distant Iraq are harming our very humanity. Rather than accolades,
the American people are receiving worldwide hatred in return. Rather
than greater security, they are receiving less. Rather than expanding
freedom in the world, they are losing their own to a mindless expansion
of federal government power.

Life is priceless.
The present value of all the future income Casey Sheehan might have
earned is miniscule compared to the value he had to himself, to
Cindy, to his father, to his brother and sisters — to all his family
and friends. Multiply that way of valuing Casey by 3000 killed,
20,000 wounded, and thousands mentally damaged or embittered for
life and you get an obscenity. This is the human cost of war.

17, 2006

Sheehan is the mother of Spc.
Casey Austin Sheehan, KIA 04/04/04
She is co-founder of Gold
Star Families for Peace
. She is the author of Not
One More Mother’s Child
and Dear
President Bush
. Sam Bostaph, Ph.D. [send
him mail
], is Professor of Economics and Chairman, Department
of Economics, University of Dallas. He is the author of numerous
scholarly articles on topics in intellectual history, economic theory
and economic theory. A former Marine, who later served as a U.S.
Army intelligence staff officer during the Vietnam War era, he is
the proud father of Katie and Megan Bostaph and prays that they
may never go to war themselves.

Sheehan Archives

Email Print