Moral Low Ground

War & Peace

Brown University Study: U.S. Cost of War= 250,000 Direct Deaths, $3,700,000,000,000 and Counting

Reuters reports that a new Brown University Study on the cost to the United States of the War on Terror has concluded that as many as a quarter million people have died as a direct result of bombs and bullets and that the final bill for waging war will be at least $3,700,000,000,000.

That $3.7 trillion, incredibly, is more than the entire annual gross domestic product of Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy. It is more than the combined GDP of Great Britain and Canada, or the combined GDP of South Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Argentina, South Africa and Israel. You get the point.

It is far, far more than the $1 trillion President Barack Obama has cited as justification for withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan. According to the Brown study, titled “Costs of War,” the US has already spent between $2.3 and $2.7 trillion waging war since al-Qaeda attacked New York and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001.

Those attacks, by the way, exceeded Osama bin Laden’s wildest expectations, killing 2,995 people and causing $50- $100 billion in economic damage– and they cost no more than $500,000.

But what’s even more important is the human toll of this seemingly endless war against terrorism, a tactic that will never be eradicated as long as there disaffected and economically disadvantaged people on this planet. For every person killed by al-Qaeda on 9/11, 73 have been killed since. The Brown study measured only those killed directly by bombs and bullets as a result of the War on Terror. That number is between 224,000 and 258,000– the population of the entire city of Orlando, Florida, with 125,000 civilians dying in Iraq alone. And again, the study did not calculate those who have died from lack of health care, clean water and food resulting from the war. It did, however, count 365,000 wounded and 7.8 million– the population of the entire country of Switzerland or the combined populations of the states of New Hampshire, Idaho, West Virginia and Kansas– displaced persons.

These numbers, of course, will only continue to grow as the war drags on. And what’s often overlooked is the cost of taking care of the veterans who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. To date, according to the Brown study, nearly half of the 1.25 million War on Terror vets have made health or disability claims, totaling some $32.6 billion. Over the next 40 years, those costs will soar to as high as $934 billion.

Another $401 billion has been spent since 9/11 on Homeland Security. Add another $185 billion in accumulated interest on the debt incurred from borrowing huge sums of money to finance the war. Then there’s the $74 billion spent on war-related foreign aid. Projected war-related spending though the year 2020 adds another $453 billion to the tab.












So, the report asks, what has the United States gained from this stupendous expenditure of blood and treasure? Well, we haven’t been attacked since 9/11. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are dead. Al-Qaeda is weakened and scattered. That’s about where the positives end.

Despite the US-led invasions, Iraq and Afghanistan are unstable, corrupt and far from free. Iran is stronger as a result of the elimination of Tehran’s nemesis Saddam Hussein. The Taliban remain a force to be reckoned with in Afghanistan.

Moral Low Ground would add that on the whole, this country has lost far more than it has gained by waging perpetual warfare. Yes, bin Laden and Hussein are dead. But our imperial wars of aggression and occupation have undoubtedly spawned a whole new generation of “baby bin Ladens” who will grow up and seek revenge against us. Our reputation has taken a mighty kicking abroad, what with Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, waterboarding and other torture, extraordinary rendition and our disdain for international law, institutions and opinion. Our civil liberties have been eroded here at home and our people have been irreversibly polarized by divisive partisan politics.

The real winners, however, have been the corporations whose profits have swollen as a result of the endless war. The military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about  and Big Oil have reaped enormous gains from the bloodshed. For example, oil services giant Halliburton, ran by Dick Cheney just before he became Vice President, was on the verge of bankruptcy just before 9/11. But in the first seven years of the War on Terror, Halliburton stock soared 376% on the strength of no-bid contracts in Iraq and from overcharging the government for fuel. Defense contractors have also often literally made a killing  by screwing over the troops with sub-standard equipment or by  grossly overcharging the government, using their high-level connections gained through a revolving door between government, the military and the private sector to literally get away with murder.

And still, the wars continue. No doubt that the 20 or so academics who participated in the Brown study will be labeled as unpatriotic, as will I for writing this post. But what’s patriotic about sending hundreds of thousands of America’s youth to kill and die halfway around the world, depleting our treasury and the goodwill of humanity in the process? For the true cost of war transcends body counts and bills. In the end, the whole world loses as a result of our unending imperial adventure. Until we realize that, we are doomed to continue down the road of national decline.

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