The war on terrorism lead by the US government following the tragic events of 9/11 remains a divisive policy among American citizens, both civilian and the military/veterans. When attempts to debate the effectiveness of such a policy are considered, we commonly hear the question raised: Is it worth it? Overwhelmingly, much of the discussion concentrates on the potential benefits of continuing the decade long war, such as providing stronger national security or bringing democracy to unstable nations which otherwise may become breeding grounds for international terrorism. However, the latter “it” in the above question, i.e., the costs of war, is largely suppressed from the discussions or implicitly reduced to the tragic loss of more than 6000 American troops, the grief to their families and $150 billion/year spent on war appropriations. Unfortunately, this is how the costs of the War on Terrorism are broadly perceived even though there is a tentative understanding among many of the devastating effect the war must have brought to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq – the lands too far away. But even then, some may conclude, there is not an alternative to war.
The Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University initiated the Costs of War project with a mission to outline a broad understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of the war (both human and economic) and the possible alternatives. We invite you to watch the short video below and to study their website costsofwar.org for detailed information and the methodology used in their study.
A very cursory summary of their findings are outlined below:
• In addition to over 6000 US soldiers dead, the level of injury and illness among returning soldiers is staggering: at least 150,000 U.S. soldiers and contractors have been physically wounded, there have been more than 550,000 disability claims submitted to the VA (end of 2011) ,and these continue to mount. In addition to physical and emotional pain, the costs of paying for veterans’ care in the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.
• At least 138,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties in the conflict.
• Conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 236,000 and those physically wounded in exceess of 365,000.
• Indirect deaths from the wars, including those related to malnutrition, damaged health, infrastructure, and environmental degradation, may far outnumber deaths from combat. A 2008 survey by The Geneva Declaration Secretariat estimates that a ratio of four indirect deaths to one direct death in contemporary conflicts would not be unreasonable.
• The current number of war refugees and displaced persons is ~ 8 million — equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.
• The estimated war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. The effects on the U.S. economy have been significant because of displaced national priorities and raising deficits.
• The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to both Afghanistan and Iraq both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.
Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about the war against Iraq. Some of those alternatives are still available to the U.S.