Jul 8, 2010 - Issue 383
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What is the Cost of War? - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - BlackCommentator.com Columnist

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What is the cost of war?

There are many ways of calculating the cost of war for a nation and, for the U.S., it usually starts with the number of American dead and wounded. Seldom are the lives of those who are killed on the “other side,” whomever they might be, considered let alone counted.

For a moment, let’s consider the human costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the number of Americans, military and mercenary, is reckoned in the low thousands and the wounded in the low tens of thousands, there are figures from respected sources that set the figure in Iraq of the dead and wounded as closer to one million.

And that doesn’t consider the millions of Iraqis who were driven from their homes into other parts of the country or to other countries, where they live as refugees, and not in the best of conditions.

Some have set the number of Americans who have been affected by the two wars in the hundreds of thousands. Those numbers are reached by counting the dead and the wounded, of course, but also by counting those who have injuries and diseases that are long lasting, but usually not acknowledged by officials. They are counted because they likely would not have suffered the damage, had it not been for their participation in wars.

For the moment, let us not consider that the American people - as it has been recounted time and time again - have not been active participants in the current wars, as they were in World War II or the Vietnam War. It could be because there is no draft and it could be because there is no civilian “war effort,” in which Americans are pulling together to accomplish a clear-cut goal. For the most part, Americans have watched the wars started by the Bush-Cheney Administration more as spectators, rather than as citizens of a country that has attacked nations that are, at best, economically and militarily third-level powers.

And, since the Iraq War was started in 2003 “off budget,” the consequences of the cost of war were put off to another generation. America has borrowed to pay for wars in which there was seemingly no accountability to anyone for the flow of billions of dollars into the rat hole of military adventurism.

Leaving the human cost of war aside for a moment (and that includes what the invasion of a desperately poor nation does to the collective psyche of the people of the invading nation, if we ever think about it collectively), we need to take a look at the destruction of our economic well being that wars have wrought.

We tend not to think about our shrinking economy as a direct result of constantly making war around the world, or preparing for war someplace, when the opportunity arises. We tend not to link our degraded national life - economic and social, not to mention our environment - with the out-of-control spending on defense and the military, along with the Pentagon budget, which are not necessarily the same things.

The dollar cost of war is seldom cast in such concrete terms as those of the American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers) in their “Cost of War” exhibit, which used statistics from the National Priorities Project, was launched in 2007 and is on exhibit in 22 locations around the U.S.

They take just the one-day cost of the war in Iraq, which has been ongoing 365 days a year, since 2003, with no real end in sight.

Here is their take on the cost of that war, for just one day:

  • One Day of the Iraq War = $720 Million
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 84 New Elementary Schools
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 12,478 Elementary School Teachers
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 95,364 Head Start Places for Children
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 1,153,846 Children with Free School Lunches
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 34,904 Four-Year Scholarships for University Students
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 163,525 People with Health Care
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 423,529 Children with Health Care
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 6,482 Families with Homes
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 1,274,336 Homes with Renewable Energy

Any of us who are concerned about the health and welfare of our poorest families, urban and rural, would look at this list and see how wealthy - not in dollars - our country really is. We could house, feed, educate, and provide for most of those in need in the U.S. We could provide jobs for virtually all of the 14 million who are unemployed and upgrade the jobs of the tens of millions more of those who are underemployed.

We might have the wherewithal to bring back our manufacturing base and our industrial base. There would be money to fund the rescue of our environment from our profligate use of it and the actual destruction of parts of it by thoughtless actions and greed.

Every one of the items listed would provide untold numbers of jobs that could be well-paying jobs with health benefits and pensions. And, that’s only from one day of the war in Iraq. Considering the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, the incursions into Pakistan, the actions in Somalia and other places around the world, where we are said to have some 730 bases, we’re talking about a lot of money. Those billions - some have estimated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at more than $2 trillion.

But this is the real world. Suppose we had all of the war money to spend on improving the lives of Americans and the life of America, even to the point of providing for each one the fairy tale of “the American dream,” there are those among our elected leadership who would vote against every move to make life better.

That impulse to punish the working class and the poor, the elderly and the infant, is profound in many quarters of American society. They - including and especially the Republicans in Congress - would work to maintain the status quo, which has revealed the greatest disparity in wealth between the rich and poor since the beginning of the Great Depression. It could be the greatest disparity in history.

Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians, speaking recently in Toronto, as the G-20 nations were meeting on the subject of the world’s economy, pointed out that the richest 2 percent own more than half the household wealth in the world, that the richest 10 percent hold 85 percent of total global assets and the bottom half of humanity owns less than 1 percent of the wealth of the world.

She added: “The three richest men in the world have more money than the poorest 48 countries.” If you want to talk about disparity in wealth, keep those numbers in mind

Climate change, Barlow continued, “is rapidly advancing, claiming at least 300,000 lives and $125 billion in damages every year. Called the silent crisis, climate change is melting glaciers, eroding soil, causing freak and increasingly wild storms, displacing untold millions from rural communities to live in desperate poverty in peri-urban centers. Almost every victim lives in the global south in communities not responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and not represented here at the summit.”

In many places, Barlow could be describing the United States, where there is no policy to deal with any of the problems she describes or any of the multitude of other problems for which no one seems to be interested in resolving. In America, we do not have a unified approach to problems that could bring our grand experiment to an end.

Rather, every issue and every problem is approached from a political perspective. The political ramifications of an issue or problem are more important than resolution. It is profoundly dysfunctional and has caused many to become hopeless.

But, reconsider the National Priorities Project’s numbers on the cost of one day of the Iraq War. That’s money that is not being made available to save and improve lives of millions of Americans. What would we do with that money? How would you spend it?

Every one concerned about the future of the nation should be getting together with neighbors to make a list of what we should be doing with that money. If that happened in 10,000 neighborhoods in America, people would begin to realize the true cost of the lone superpower visiting death and destruction on virtually helpless peoples.

And then, taking action in such massive numbers, they could start the effort to change the nation from one that is only concerned about the welfare of Corporate America and its military machine, to one that puts the concerns of the people first.

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.


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