Calculating what war costs us

Fr. Grant

By Fr. Bud Grant

Now that combat forces have left Iraq we can begin to calculate the cost of the war. We must begin, reverently, with the sacrifice in blood.

I pause here; it is almost obscene to reduce the lives and stories of our brothers and sisters to mere ciphers: 4,420 U.S. troops; 316 allied troops; 55,000 insurgents; 50,000 to 100,000 civilians. Almost 32,000 Americans were wounded, another estimated 30 percent of veterans develop what President Obama calls the “signature injury” of this war: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There are financial costs of rehabilitation and health care; re-populating, re-supplying and training replacements in the armed services; building Iraq’s infrastructure; graft (roughly 10 percent of all aid spent); and the ongoing expense of maintaining nearly 50,000 advisors.

Then there are ancillary costs. What would we have been able to accomplish had we not been distracted by this awful war? Education, infrastructure, heck, oil rig and chicken egg inspections are victims of the war. Worst of all, the degrading environmental health of our planet is ignored.

Estimates of the cost of this war range from $1 trillion to $3 trillion. Ignoring the absurd sprawl of that estimate and taking the most conservative figure, we get $3,246.75 per U.S. citizen. We will probably never see a financial accounting of the Iraq war: it is simply not the kind of information that any government is inclined to release. Think about it: if we saw what we were spending, our support might lag for what might otherwise be our national responsibility (for geo-political, global strategic, or perhaps humanitarian reasons). In any case, we won’t pay that bill. As with the national debt ($13,431,401,822,198.75) we’ve bequeathed that to others. 


War goals, such as a democratic Iraq or cheap oil, have proven illusory, while our children fight our wars with our grandchildren paying the bill. Precious little has been won by the sacrifice of others’ blood and others’ debt.  Might we, on sober and prayerful reflection, admit that we should not have waged that war? Could we admit, further, that any war worth such costs should be fought by us and paid for with our own sweat and lucre? What crisis is of such colossal importance that, even if politically unpopular, it calls for the most treasured resources of the nation to combat?  I have one candidate.

During the last presidential campaign I was invited to a grassroots environmentalist’s meeting with Frederico Pena, then the Obama national campaign co-chair. Their environmental platform, as I judged, was not as strong as Governor Richardson’s, but I went. I arrived a few minutes late, slipped into the room, and listened while catching the thread of the conversation. Everyone was talking about the war. Finally Mr. Pena turned to me. I remember noting to him that, although we were gathered to discuss green issues, we’d not even mentioned them, signaling that our environment is another war casualty. 

Bill McKibben, a passionate environmental voice, blasts both political parties for such shameful neglect. We have gone a decade into the new millennium without an international strategy to combat global warming. We remain oblivious to the trillion(s) spent on an absurd war while some insist that we cannot afford investments to mitigate climate change (or whatever euphemism we use). The decade just finished was the warmest ever recorded, the decade before that was the second warmest. This year is on track to break the record. The cost of doing nothing is rising like the thermometer.

Our faith teaches us about sacrifice: Abraham willing to shed his son’s blood, Christ shedding his for us. The Iraq war has perverted that instruction. Combating global warming does not require an Abrahamaic bloody sacrifice of our children. It does demand Christ-like personal sacrifices of material comforts to ensure the quality of life of our children’s children and God’s green creation.  But we haven’t yet mobilized; we haven’t even paid for the oil war.

(Father Bud Grant is an assistant professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)

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