Lying in bed, listening to the Newell’s shearwaters, which I now hear every morning, their calls more frequent, more numerous, indicating that parents are flying to and from their burrows, feeding their chicks. And that’s a good thing.
Up and out with the dogs, walking toward cloud-draped Makaleha in a mist-like rain that makes the gray of pre-dawn more pronounced, leaves the world, the dogs’ fur, me, covered in fine drops that seem pure, but who knows, given reports of radiation spikes on Kauai. And that's not such a good thing.
The sun peeks out, an orange ball trying to burn through a charcoal-colored curtain. It’s quiet now, but this is a day that will be dominated by the pop, sizzle and flash of burning firecrackers, serving as raucous reminders that the Fourth of July is not so much a celebration of America’s independence but of the dominant, and flawed, belief system that only death and destruction — war — can bring freedom and peace.
War-mongering — or to use the Orwellian term, “peacemaking” — comes at a very high price, one that we never consider in whole. Now, thanks to the work of the Eisenhower Research Project at Brown University, an attempt has been to painstakingly document the social, economic and political costs of waging just two misnamed wars, “Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)” in Afghanistan and and Pakistan and “Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).” The results are presented in sobering detail on the Costs of War website.
A few key findings, aside from the estimated $3.2 to $4 trillion price tab:
Just over 6,000 American soldiers have died; what remains unknown are the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars. New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall. Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.
At least 137,000 civilians have died and more will die, with as many dying in Pakistan as in Afghanistan.
Some 7.8 million people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions.
The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century; the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.
The ripple effects on the U.S. economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been underappreciated.
I was also intrigued by reports on where the money has gone: private contractors — primarily Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics — got some $400 billion in military contracts, the highest levels since World War II.
Then there’s the under-reported environmental toll, including the long-lasting health risks associated with toxic dust and depleted uranium:
The wars have also damaged forests, wetlands and marshlands in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Bombing in Afghanistan and deforestation have threatened an important migratory thoroughfare for birds leading through this area. The number of birds now flying this route has dropped by 85 percent. U.S. bases became a lucrative market for the skins of the endangered Snow Leopard.
While destruction of military base garbage in burn pits and toxic dust from military operations have added to air pollution, heavy military vehicles have also disturbed the earth, particularly in Iraq and Kuwait. Combined with drought as a result of deforestation and global climate change, dust has become a major problem exacerbated by the major new movements of military vehicles across the landscape. U.S. Geologic Survey microbiologists have found heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cobalt, barium, and aluminum, which can cause respiratory distress, and other health problems. Since 2001, there has been a 251 percent rise in the rate of neurological disorders, a 47 percent increase in the rate of respiratory problems, and a 34 percent rise in rates of cardio-vascular disease in military service members that is likely related to this problem.
And let’s not forget the contribution to global warming:
The Department of Defense has been the country’s single largest consumer of fuel, using about 4.6 billion gallons of fuel each year. Military vehicles consume petroleum-based fuels at an extremely high rate: an M-1 Abrams tank can get just over a half mile on a gallon of fuel per mile or use about 300 gallons during eight hours of operation. Bradley Fighting Vehicles consume about 1 gallon per mile driven.
In other words, at a minimum, these wars have harmed millions, racked up debt we’ll never be able to pay, tanked the economy, intensified anti-American sentiment in the Middle East, trashed the environment and eroded the values upon which America supposedly was founded — and they’ve failed to bring either freedom or true democracy:
[O]n a widely used evaluation and ranking of the quality of democracy across the world’s states, the “Democracy Index,” Iraq ranks poorly. Of the 167 countries ranked for 2010, Iraq is classified as a “hybrid regime” (between a “flawed democracy” and an “authoritarian regime”) and comes in at #111. According to Transparency International, on a corruption scale from 0 to 10, Iraq ranks 1.5 — the worst in the Middle East — in corruption (defined as “abuse of entrusted power for private gain”) in 2010.
On the Democracy Index, Afghanistan is categorized as an authoritarian regime and ranks at 150 out of 167. Afghanistan ranks 1.4 on the Transparency International corruption scale – the worst in South Asia. Of the 178 countries assessed, the only countries lower ranked than Afghanistan or Iraq are Myanmar and Somalia.
Despite the oft-repeated mantra of “freedom isn’t free,” war is not only extremely costly in so many ways, it’s apparently the least effective method for dealing with terror tactics:
A Rand report made systematic examination and comparison of 268 groups using terror tactics in the period from 1968 to 2006. It showed that several approaches have been much more effective than military responses at eliminating future attacks. They include criminal justice responses and attempts to address the well-being concerns of both combatants and the broader populace that might support them.
The study found that 40 percent of the 268 groups were eliminated through intelligence and policing methods; 43 percent ended their violence as a result of peaceful political accommodation; 10 percent ceased their violent activity because they had achieved their objectives (“victory”) by violence; and only 7 percent were defeated militarily.
So why does this insanity continue? Why are we so quick to shock and awe, rather than try a different — less deadly, less costly, less destructive — approach?
Well, there’s the obvious: a few companies with tremendous political influence make absolutely obscene amounts of money on the war trade. (Perhaps you're aiding them, by holding stock in their companies?) And then there’s the not so obvious: most Americans are pretty much clueless. As long as they believe that war is happening somewhere else, to someone else, they don't much seem to care.
Or as Adolph Hitler put it: “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don't think.”