Every night on American TV you can see repeating commercials to raise money for young people who’ve had limbs blown off. It might be cruel to ask the following question in the presence of these veterans, but millions of other people have been forced to pay for all of this, and they need to be protected as well.
And so, with condolences to the young people who signed up for these wars believing they were actually defending the good, we must ask this question: What was the payoff?
Some people will evade this question by maintaining that “freedom was preserved,” but that statement rests on a nebulous and self-serving definition of freedom… a definition that boils down to, “What we have is freedom.” Or it’s variant: “It’s worse in North Korea; therefore we’re free.” These lines of reasoning, of course, are fallacious.
The 16 Years’ War (Heading for 20 or More)
So, with apologies where due, I must assert that the payoff from all the bloodshed in Afghanistan and Iraq has been negligible. Both places are still a mess, and both places will likely remain a mess for a long, long time.
Almost 16 years of war have gone by in Afghanistan and more than 14 in Iraq. I think we should admit that any possibility of a “respectable win” is long past.
So, what was it all for? To make people feel they were getting revenge after 9/11? Was that really worth the cost? Bin Laden (whose official death story reeks) was sick and dying anyway. Or to “get” Hussein? He had been a US ally for many years before he was pushed into the role of the villain. So how reasonable is revenge in that case?
Were these two snorts of emotional cocaine worth their price?
Ah Yes… The Price
War is insanely expensive, so I’ve decided to crunch the numbers on this, and I think you’ll want to see them, especially if you’re an American.
And so, here, courtesy of Wikipedia, are the costs of the US military-industrial complex for the years 2001 through 2017:
2001 $335 Billion
2002 $362 Billion
2003 $456 Billion
2004 $491 Billion
2005 $506 Billion
2006 $556 Billion
2007 $625 Billion
2008 $696 Billion
2009 $698 Billion
2010 $721 Billion
2011 $717 Billion
2012 $681 Billion
2013 $610 Billion
2014 $614 Billion
2015 $637 Billion
2016 $522 Billion
2017 $524 Billion
That comes to a staggering $9.751 trillion. And we should remember that this is for a nation bordered on the east and west by immense oceans, and on the north and south by nations that are more likely to dissolve than to invade. On top of that, The War on Drugs and other programs are only partly accounted for in these numbers.
The costs of just the Iraq and Afghan wars – if they could realistically be separated from the rest of the military-industrial complex – would be substantially lower. One report (PDF) has those costs for 2001 through 2011 at $1.28 trillion. Extending that figure through 2017 would yield a rough cost of $2.2 trillion.
But since no war can be fought without the underlying military-industrial complex (bases, training, recruitment, hospitals, logistics and so on), let’s split the difference between the total budget and $2.2T and call the money spent by the US government on these two wars $6 trillion.
And That Comes To…
The cost of the past 16 years of these unresolved wars comes to $44,776 per household. That’s a lot of spare change.
If you want to look at it on an individual basis, it comes to $18,809 per man, woman, and child in the United States ((I am using Wikipedia’s figures of 319 million persons and 134 million households in the US.)).
Revenge, we see, is very, very expensive.
The full cost of the military-industrial complex (excluding parts of the War on Drugs, some intel agencies, and so on) comes to $30,567 per man, woman, and child and $72,769 per household.
Can We Please Be Honest?
I really can’t see a reason to say that the two wars in question kept America safe. I’m not sure how you’d make an argument for that without resting entirely on dark imaginations.
And please remember this: Imagined terrors are infinite. You could imagine terrifying possibilities for as long as you had time and energy.
And so, any conclusions based upon “what might have happened” are useless. More terror attacks might have happened, or there might have been a Muslim Enlightenment if we hadn’t blown away a few pieces of collateral damage. Both of these are imaginary and neither is an excuse to spend fifty cents, much less trillions of dollars.
That first one is scary, however, and fear is great for making humans act stupidly.
I’d also like to add that these expenditures have not gone to the young people who were blown up in these wars and who should have been a top priority. If they had, there’d be no need for perpetual charity appeals on TV. That very expensive segment of the military-industrial complex (VA hospitals, etc.) has failed horribly. Ask a vet.
So let’s be clear on this:
The average American family would be at least $44,000 richer if these wars hadn’t been run. And given that most of these families are just scraping by, that seems like a pretty big deal.
And given that the net gain from all of this was nil, I don’t know what to call it but a disaster… save for the people who’ve been empowered and enriched by it.
Almost no one living has been more damaged by this than all those young people missing limbs. Without this debacle they’d still be whole… and probably a lot wealthier too.
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