The Cost of War

The Cost of War by pendragon David Whelan There is no true way to put the price on war. When soldiers are killed, cultures and their artifacts destroyed, it becomes difficult to truly assign a dollar value to the losses or gains. Two recent events put that into perspective for me: first was the request for another US$ 25 billion from the American executive to fund ongoing costs of the war. The second was a visit to the battlefield known as Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, where more than 23,000 soldiers were killed, injured or went missing in a single day in the American Civil War.

Twenty-three thousand is a striking number of people no matter how you look at it. But considering the weapons available and that it happened in a single day, it’s hard to imagine 23,000 families affected by the outcome of the events of a single day. Astoundingly, it was a crushing defeat for neither side, although it was the event that enabled Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

There is no way to contrast those casualties with the growing number of casualties of the incursion into Iraq, for many reasons, not least of which is that war is startingly different now. But what is interesting is to juxtapose the goals behind the wars. The Civil War was bound inextricably to each side’s view of what the Founding Fathers, and the end result of the bloodshed was a country that has survived another 145 odd years using political and social mechanisms to achieve change.

The request for additional funds for the ongoing aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan poses other issues. First, it represents only half of what will be needed – at best – for the continuation of these incursions in the next year. The American administration is now estimating that the cost will be about US$5 billion per month and that next year’s expenses will be US$60 billion. Second, the money is for ongoing expenses, unplanned apparently, and yet are sought with few strings attached. This may mean that they are not going to be used to provide additional armor to the troops’ Humvees, or more flak jackets, or better supply lines for the front line troops and forward operating bases but could be used at the discretion of a political administration that has shown that it does not have the ability to manage money or wars very well.

There seem only to be requests for money and no focus or clear plan that shows what success will mean in Iraq. The Department of Defense’s stated goals are to build capable Iraqi security forces, nurture Iraq’s capacity for representative self-government, and to restore the country’s infrastructure and essential services. There is no fight for the core principles of democracy and freedom any more. We’re now spending huge amounts of money, and risking the lives of current soldiers and the future of the military, for what amounts to a “hostile takeover”, merger and acquisition-style, and for which success will mean many years of ongoing intervention to avoid Iraq’s collapse.

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David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.