Lives taken, hearts broken, homes destroyed and cities burnt - the cost of wars cannot be measured by figures alone. While the figures of the wars begun ten years ago may underrepresent the real impact and cost of the ongoing manmade disasters, they may help us shape our understanding and reaction to the recent history.
Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies conducted a research project named Costs of War, in order to outline a broad understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The analysis was done by a team that includes economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts, and a physician.
Below are some of their findings:
- 224,000 to 258,000 people have died directly from warfare. Among them, at least 137,000 are civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Many more have died indirectly, from the loss of clean drinking water, healthcare, and nutrition. 365,000 have been wounded and 7.8 million, equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky, have been displaced.
- Over 6,000 U.S. soldiers have died in the wars and so have 2,300 Pentagon contractors.
The levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars are unknown. Registered new disability claims have reached 550,000 through the last fall. Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.
- The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
- Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion.
- The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Many of the wars' costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed. As with former US wars, 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.
- While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to both countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.
- Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq. Some of those alternatives are still available to the U.S.
In regards to U.S. veterans and military families,
- Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are 75 percent more likely to die in car crashes than comparable civilians.
- Rates of vehicular mayhem such as drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter have doubled.
- Sex crimes by active duty soldiers have tripled since 2003.
- By 2008, more than 2 million American children have coped with a parent going to the wars, and one half million of them may have become clinically depressed.
- In 2007, 700,000 children had a parent in one of the warzones.
On June 22, President Barack Obama announced that 33,000 US troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 2012. According to the Washington Post, Obama's promise to wind down American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan could produce about $1.4 trillion in savings over the next decade, assuming troops totals there steadily decline.