Andrew Schoerke and Will Miller

What is the cost of war? Quantifiably, the cost is measured by the number of military lives lost, the number of military wounded and the dollars spent.

According to Department of Defense figures, to date the Afghanistan war has cost 2,329 Americans killed and 17,095 wounded since Oct. 7, 2001. For the invasion and occupation of Iraq the DOD lists 4,481 Americans killed and 32,223 wounded. For both wars, according to the Veterans Administration, 153,046 suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and 287,911 with Traumatic Brain Injury (source: Congressional Research Service CRS RS 22452).

According to figures compiled by the Congressional Research Service, to date the direct cost for the Afghanistan war is $753.3 billion and the Iraq war cost was $813.8 billion.

But do these statistics measure the full cost of war? How is it possible to determine the value of the lives, families, relationships destroyed by war; lives destroyed by PTSD, traumatic brain injury and the suicides that are direct results of the wars? Further, the above dollar figures do not reflect a full accounting for waging war by not including the ongoing medical care needed to adequately treat and rehabilitate our returning servicemen and servicewomen. Also, because there never was, and is, any special tax to pay for them, the wars are always paid for out of the annual discretionary budget which excludes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.


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Because annual budgets always exceed revenues, in order to finance the wars money must be borrowed. The bottom line is a national debt which must be paid back by taking more and more money from future government tax revenue. How can the cost of a continually debt-ridden economy be measured? One non-quantifiable cost of war is the loss of trust in our government.

Congress, responding to the outcry for revenge on the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 tragedy, gave President Bush unlimited war power by passing legislation titled "Authorization to Use Military Force" against those responsible for the attack. He used the authorization to launch what he called a "Global War On Terror" first by invading Afghanistan and then attacking and invading Iraq. The nation was told the attack on Iraq was necessary to prevent it from launching an imminent attack on the United States using weapons of mass destruction and to eliminate terrorists responsible for 9/11 and the government that harbored them. Both of these reasons proved to be false and the highly touted Mission Accomplished banner became the announcement of a 10 year war which killed hundreds of Iraqis, devastated the country and installed a corrupt government that today is powerless to stop a sectarian civil war.

The war on terror is largely carried out in secret with the CIA compiling a "Matrix" of alleged terrorists which is then sent to the White House. This secret process, described in three Washington Post articles in the Fall of 2012, considers the evidence, arrives at a verdict and passes the death sentence. Unmanned aerial vehicles, drones, are the weapon of choice to carry out the sentence and have, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, killed between 2, 977 to 4,768 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Of these, between 474 and 1090 were civilians. We are not at war with any of these countries and to kill people within their borders constitutes a gross violation of the sovereignty of nations. Under Article VI of our Constitution "This Constitution ... and all Treaties made or which shall be made under the authority of the United States shall be the supreme Law of the Land."

How can the United States be valued as a world leader when it brazenly violates the international human rights laws and covenants it has agreed to and signed by targeting and killing people in countries we are not at war with? Perhaps it's the sheer banality of perpetual war that has made it so acceptable to Americans. Each one of these quantifiable and non-quantifiable costs, we are led to believe, is the price we must pay for national security. As the prescient Benjamin Franklin said: "They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Andrew Schoerke, of Shaftsbury, of Will Miller Green Mountain Veterans for Peace