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The price tag for the forever war

At the Emerging Writers’ Festival on Sunday, I mentioned that the US had spent 900 billion dollars on its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As it happens, my information was out of date. Actually, the bill now stands at a round trillion dollars.

Yep. A trillion. That’s a one and then twelve zeroes.

To put that in perspective, the cost of ending world hunger comes in at approximately $30 billion per year. In other words, for the money already spent, the US could have wiped out starvation across the planet for the next thirty-three years.

What did the money go on instead?

Well, here’s Wiki’s tabulation of the various casualty estimates from Iraq.

Source Iraqi casualties March 2003 to …
Iraq Family Health Survey 151,000 violent deaths. June 2006
Lancet survey 601,027 violent deaths out of 654,965 excess deaths. June 2006
Opinion Research Business survey 1,033,000 violent deaths from the conflict. August 2007
Associated Press 110,600 violent deaths April 2009
Iraq Body Count 94,902 – 103,549 violent civilian deaths from the conflict. December 2009

You can add to that that the numberless injured and the millions of Iraqis now living as refugees (there’s at least 1.5 million people displaced within the country, let alone those outside). And that’s even before we start talking about Afghanistan.

To put it bluntly, a staggering sum of money – an amount capable of solving any number of the planet’s most intractable problems, from climate change to housing shortages – went instead to spreading misery and destruction. It’s something to bear in mind next time you hear a conservative boasting about responsible economic management.

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Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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  1. Thanks for this post Jeff. I reckon the tragedy is that this sort of spending on warfare will probably only continue, even after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over. Too many people are making too much money out of the defence and armanents industry globally for it to be otherwise; and the armaments industry has insinuated itself too deeply in the global economy to be disamantled, particularly in the US. And when it comes to the crunch, too many governments resort to war and the love of war to keep the populace in line.

  2. Damn. I just was writing a blog on this subject. Now I’ll have to start again.
    Yes, thanks for this Jeff, as heartbreaking as it is. It’s not as though the spending of a trillion bucks for war is separate from the forces that are shredding the planet ecologically. War as an extension of capitalism by other means and so on. Not many degrees of separation between BP’s staggeringly stupid actions in the Gulf of Mexico and the insane destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  3. They are heartbreaking numbers Jeff. And sadly not confined to conservative governments.
    And Rowan, I think your comment is way too tragically true – about fact this will probably continue, given military’s so entrenched in US and global economy (as Naomi Klein shows so well in ‘The Shock Doctrine’, the creepy symbiotic relationship between corporate and government military interests in US).
    I hate the feeling of impotence – captcha: ‘platform who’.

  4. This is not quite the right place to post this, but I am a non-Twitterer. I am incensed. Almost incandescent with distress and outrage. A tweet 20 minutes ago from witnessgaza.com.which I have been following all day, said that the Israelis hit the deck firing, shooting people while they were asleep. It is like Kent State or Sharpeville.

    • Yes, it is appalling and shocking and criminal. Yet something Gazans experience daily.

      But this, this is something else:

  5. Thanks (I think) Michael, for that clarification – 3 trillion dollars is a whole new order of number and expenditure. And senseless destruction.

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