Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Cost of War

It does not look as if we were winning the war in Afghanistan. It does not look as if we'd won in Iraq either. The outcomes of both wars remain uncertain.

But one thing is certain: the cost is indefensible.

The dollar cost of both wars now exceeds $1 trillion.

In Iraq we lost 4500 soldiers.

Of the private contractors working in Iraq to support US military personnel, 1327 were killed. 145  journalists died.

Estimates of civilian Iraqi casualties are somewhere between 100,000 and 600,000.

Military deaths in Afghanistan stand around 2000. The Washington Post reports "Since 2000, 180,000 traumatic brain injuries have been diagnosed [In Iraq and Afghanistan], and some patient advocates say hundreds, if not thousands, more have suffered undiagnosed brain injuries. A Rand study in 2008 estimated the total number of service members with TBI [traumatic brain injury] to be about 320,000.” For every one of these soldiers with serious lifelong damage there is a family whose life is similarly shattered. There are children who grow up with a father who has difficulties functioning.

In the meantime, the rate of military suicides keeps rising. In Afghanistan alone there were more than 300 suicides by soldiers in a recent year. How many soldiers return, deeply unhappy and thinking about suicide? The divorce rate in the military is also rising. All of these numbers give us hints about the incredible toll on human lives inflicted by these wars, not only by causing death and major injury but by leaving soldiers unable take up civilian life and function well, to take up life with their families, to overcome the trauma of warfare.

One chilling illustration comes from a story in a local college publication. The young author describes how her brother returned from fighting in Iraq as a Marine. The whole family met him at the airport, all excited to have him come back alive and apparently unhurt. But he is distant and uncommunicative. Within a short period he reenlists to go to Afghanistan.

His sister asks him why we are fighting these two wars. He does not know. He is a well-trained Marine. All he does is take orders and do what he is told. He does not ask questions. He does not wonder why he gets his orders. All he cares for is to advance in rank and earn more money.

We can get see the terrible trouble we are in if that is who survives our wars. The soldiers who survived the cold winter at Valley Forge under George Washington knew what they were fighting for. They were citizens.

But this ex-Marine will never be a citizen. His withdrawal from our republic shows us just one more ways in which our young men and women are damaged irreparably by this war.