Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Costs of War

"WAR is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives." Major General Smedley Butler

I was asked to talk about the costs of war. This is not an easy subject to research.

You would expect that the dollar costs of war for the US would be easy to find. After all, our Constitution requires that "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time". So the monetary costs of the various wars should be right there in plain view, not hidden in separate accounts, or put into an unconstitutional "black budget". (Of course, the Constitution also states that only Congress can declare war, and we see how well that provision is followed). While it would take hours to try to track US spending on war, I can safely say that many trillions of dollars have been spent on wars, weapons, and occupations since WW2.

What about the human costs of war? There is a very specific count kept of dead US service members. But is it accurate? We don't know. The tally for the two biggest invasions and occupations of the last 10 years is said to be 6051. If a soldier is wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, and airlifted to Germany and then dies there, does his or her death count? Dead mercenaries are not included, even if they are American. Suicides are not counted, even if in-country. Special Forces deaths in unacknowledged attacks are not counted.

The wounded are counted, but again, we don't know how accurate the count is. And what about the psychic wounds? The broken marriages, the alcohol and drug abuse, the nightmares, the rages, the child abuse, the 100 mph motorcycle crash? Not counted.

And when it comes to the victims of US wars-well, we don't do body counts. Our government doesn't care. It doesn't have to.

How many people died in Iraq? The estimates range from the US government count of 150,000 to more accurate estimates of over one million people, not counting those who died from lack of clean water, sewage treatment or medical care, caused by the attacks on water and sewage treatment plans, and the bombings of hospitals. These are all war crimes, by the way, along with the torture of prisoners, including many people who were tortured to death. All war crimes, which is ignored by the media. How many refugees? Again, the estimates vary, but there are millions of displaced people inside of Iraq and around 2 million outside of Iraq, including one million in Syria, now being threatened by the US again. How many widows and orphans have we made? How many children traumatized by the terrors of bombs dropping for hours at a time, of seeing family members killed, of having their homes broken into in the middle of the night and their fathers and brothers dragged away by heavily armored troops?

How many Afghans have died? There seems to be even less effort to find that out.

Shortly after Obama was inaugurated, even before he received his Nobel Peace Prize, he increased the number of drone attacks on Pakistan, driving 2 million people from their homes, in the winter, to live in tents in the freezing cold. 2 million homeless refugees, not usually even mentioned in the accounting of the costs of war. And we know that there are drone attacks also in Yemen and Somalia. How many have died? We don't know. Our government might know but it doesn't care to tell us.

The environmental costs of war are enormous and ongoing. From the depleted uranium bombs dropped onto Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, to the burning of oil and other toxic wastes, the destruction of forests, marshes and farmland, not only from bombs, but from the heavy military equipment the US uses to invade, the destruction of the environment is a terrible cost of war. Although we know that rainforests are essential to our world, the US dropped tons of herbicide on Asian rainforests and continues to drop herbicides onto Columbia. The US uses vast amounts of oil to invade other countries. Birds, amphibians, animals and other wildlife are killed by the destruction and pollution of their habitat. The birth defect rates and cancer rates are skyrocketing in victim countries, especially in Falllujah,

US soldiers also kill the livestock and pets of their victims. There was a brief scandal in the US when a video went viral of US Marines throwing a puppy over a cliff and laughing about it. We were treated to the usual claims that this is not the American way. But many, many citizens of these countries report that their animals have been killed by US troops.

We are now going through a variation of previous scandals. A US soldier (or more, according to witnesses) broke into a house in Afghanistan and massacred 16 people, including 9 children. The media is covering this extensively, especially showing sympathy for the perp, who was on his fourth tour. (His lawyer had previously been Ted Bundy's lawyer, but I don't recall the same sympathetic treatment of Ted Bundy in the media. ) Obama solemnly declares that mass murder is not part of the American character.

OK, we know that killing civilians while drunk, or urinating on those you've killed, or burning Korans, are not part of the exalted American character. But dropping bombs for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as part of a shock and awe strategy, dropping bombs on family celebrations, such as weddings and birthday parties, killing scores of people with drones, apparently is a perfectly fine part of the American character.

Does anyone else find this baffling? Why is it OK to call in an air strike and kill hundreds of people, or blow people up at checkpoints who don't understand commands given in English, but not OK to urinate on their corpses? It's OK to burn children, but not Korans. It's OK to kick down doors in the middle of the night, and kidnap or kill the sleeping people, but not OK if you're drunk?

What IS the American character and how is it affected by our endless wars? This cost is rarely mentioned in the accounting of the tragedies of war.

American immigrants before WW2 were frequently people escaping conscription in their home countries. America had a strong tradition of resisting foreign entanglements. But this changed with the 2 world wars of the 20th century. While enough Europeans were slaughtered to sober them into giving up their warlike ways, at least temporarily, American civilians came out of WW2 sitting pretty. A decision was made by our ruling overlords to turn to a permanent war economy. We all know that the famous "military-industrial complex" that Eisenhower warned us about is now a reality. Bits of the war machine are scattered into each district in America, including our own General Dynamics, which manufactures depleted uranium weapons, which kill not only this generation, but poison generations to come in the future. This is a war crime. Instead of despising the war profiteers, as our ancestors did, we revere them as "job providers". We have over 700 bases all over the world, and our immense standing military of the last 60 years equals millions of children born into military families, brought up on military bases, and educated at military schools. What effect does this have upon our society? When I was a child, we were taught thecivilian values of the previous America, like- pick on someone your own size, and don't be a bully. You don't hear those values anymore. Instead, the overwhelming US military superiority is celebrated, and the lack of the ability of self-defense of our victims is considered a very good thing.

After WW2, a "Ratline" was set up and numerous Nazis and Nazi sympathizers were brought into the Americas, and in the following decades, as some of the Empire's subjects rebelled against our proxy rulers, other war criminals, death squad leaders, terrorists and collaborators were brought into our country. What effect do they have on our society? Just last month, a war criminal, Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova from El Salvador, was ordered deported for war crimes he committed in 1980. So for over 30 years, he's lived unmolested. About 80,000 people were killed by their own government in El Salvador in the 1980s. Did the US call for an invasion to stop the killings? No. They supported the junta, and allowed numerous criminal immigrants into the US. Chilean and Haitian war criminals, among others, are also living in the US. A terrorist who was convicted of blowing up a civilian airliner and killing everyone on board is living openly in Miami.

In WW2, it was found that only 15% of soldiers were willing to fire at a person they were face to face with. This was considered a problem, and the military spent many millions of dollars finding ways to overcome this human tendency.

Our entire society has been subjected to a propaganda campaign to justify wars, and our TV shows, our movies and our video games glorify violence and teach that the only possible outcome to conflict is violence. By the time our children are 18 years-of-age; he or she will witness 200,000 acts of violence, including 40,000 murders. The US Army gives away millions of violent video games to teenagers.

Where has this been leading us? A violent culture, coupled with the simultaneous self-righteous belief in our ultimate goodness and inalienable right to dictate to the rest of the world, further combined with the wide-spread cowering fear that we are vulnerable to violent acts of other peoples of the world, and must kill them before they kill us. As Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out in 1967, in the midst of the brutal US attack on Vietnam,

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."

45 years later, we are much farther along in our spiritual demise and our programs of social uplift have been devastated and are under further attack. It seems very easy at this time for the US government to attack other countries. Like well-trained dogs, we are willing to sic anyone that our ruling overlords point to. There are many Americans very willing to advocate killing everyone in Iran, a country of 75 million people.

Wikileaks released a video of US soldiers killing a group of men on a street in Iraq, and then wounding a man who stopped to help him. When the Good Samaritan tried to get back in his car, they shot up the car, and severely wounded his children. When the Americans found out that there were injured children in the car, one of them said "It's his fault for bringing his children into a war zone". What kind of demented mindset could believe that? The man didn't bring his children into a war zone. America brought the war zone to his children.

And who was arrested, tortured and prosecuted for this crime? Bradley Manning, the soldier with a conscience, who is said to have given the evidence to Wikileaks.

Last year, the US and NATO attacked Libya, telling us that they were protecting the civilians from their evil dictator. The country with the highest standard living in Africa has now had its infrastructure destroyed, and a civil war has started with tens of thousands of dead civilians killed in order to save them. How many? Our government doesn't care; it doesn't have to.

Last week a new kind of propaganda was rolled out. I'm sure that most people here were exposed to the internet video of a cute little American kid, learning about a bad guy who must be killed in order to save the children of Uganda. What was this? It didn't take long for debunkers to expose that Joseph Kony hasn't been in Uganda for 6 years, and that the decades-long civil war, in which the US-backed government of Musevini was also guilty of war crimes, has been over for years. Why would US citizens now be asked to support US military intervention to get a long-gone "bad guy"? Could it be the oil found in Uganda, and the wish of the US to have a military base in Africa?

Now we are told that Syrian President Assad is attacking his own people and must be stopped. And that Iran is thinking about someday maybe getting nuclear weapons and must be attacked. It seems that these two excuses for war have played well before and so are being rolled out again. It doesn't matter that they used the WMD excuse on Iraq 9 years ago, and then admitted that it was a lie. It doesn't matter that the so-called humanitarian interventions in Yugoslavia and Libya ended up killing far more civilians than were projected to have been killed by their evil dictators, and that the people in all the countries that the US has attacked are worse off now.

Even people who believe in peaceful ways sometimes fall for the assumption that the US military can be used for good, decades of evidence to the contrary. We must remember that people are never better off when bombs fall onto them, no matter what our media tells us.

The blatant disregard for international law that the US has shown in its interactions with other countries has come home to roost. Our ruling elite breaks laws with impunity, while ordinary Americans are imprisoned at rates far higher than any other country on the planet. While Americans can plan weddings and birthday parties without worrying about drone attacks wiping out the participants, we are not immune from late night attacks from heavily armed SWAT teams, breaking down doors, terrorizing children, killing dogs, and arresting adults. There are such raids every night now. The US was founded on the rule of law, but everyone now knows that the laws don't apply to the rich and powerful. The very foundation of our society and government has been undermined.

The last cost that I want to mention is the loss of civil liberties at home. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. . . , as James Madison pointed out. So endless war leads to the permanent loss of liberty that we have seen in the last decades. Methods of oppression learned in occupation are brought home to use on our own population. Tolerance of brutality in other countries leads to tolerance of police and prison brutality at home. Our police forces have been militarized, and since 2002, there is now a military command over the United States, Northcom.

I have focused more on the costs of war to Americans than to our victims. I apologize for that, but it is our task to take responsibility for what our own nations's government does, and it is here that so many modern wars have originated. The next wars are connected to the last wars because the underlying causes are the same. To change our nation's course, we must learn from our history and recent experience. The lesson we must take from that is that we must work to change the midset of our citizens, and the underlying economic and class causes of war, or we will continually be, as Martin Luther King pointed out, protesting war after war after war.


david g said...

What a comprehensive summary of the American condition, wage laborer!

You see things so clearly and list the many problems besetting your country.

How did America come to this? It was the hope for the world for many.

Hopefully you will get into a position of power and be able to help turn things around.

I wish you well!

Anonymous said...

Wage, thank you for highlighting the enormous waste (both lives and money) that war is.

We miss you over at CFN.

All the best,


wagelaborer said...

Thanks to you both.

I gave this speech to the usual suspects, but there were two homeless people there, also, and they seemed to be listening intently.

I miss CFN, but that is what happens with censorship. Many unintended are targeted.


Todd Boyle said...

Good job Paula! I wish I could have been there to record video. What a great essay.