Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

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Casualties of war

Posted: 7 October 2012 in Uncategorized
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Today, on the eleventh anniversary of the start of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, it is important to remember who is doing the work of this war and who is dying.

Last year, Michael Zweig, Michael Porter, and Yuxiang Huang completed a preliminary study of American military deaths in Afghanistan and the communities they came from. Here are a couple of their conclusions:

Nearly half (43 percent) of casualties came from large metropolitan core cities and their surrounding suburbs. Casualties came disproportionately from counties with lower than median income, but not particularly from poor areas. Contrary to expectations that come from the idea of an “economic draft,” we find that casualty counties have about the same or sometimes significantly lower rates of poverty and unemployment than average, suggesting that relative lack of local economic opportunity is not typical of counties from which Afghan war casualties have come. . .

Americans who have died in Afghanistan are disproportionately white and Na- tive American working class young people with no more than a high school education.

 

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If “all warfare is based on deception” (Sun Tzu), the biggest deception concerns the costs of warfare.

That’s why the work done by the folks at costsofwar.org is so important. They have attempted to estimate the human, economics, and sociopolitical costs of the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Here are some of their findings:

  • While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (just over 6000), what is startling is what we don’t know about 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 138,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.
  • The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the U.S. helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, has taken as many lives as the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
  • Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 236,000.
  • Indirect deaths from the wars, including those related to malnutrition, damaged health infrastructure, and environmental degradation, may far outnumber deaths from combat. While these deaths are difficult to count due to factors such as lack of comparable baseline mortality figures, a 2008 survey by The Geneva Declaration Secretariat estimates that assuming a ratio of four indirect deaths to one direct death in contemporary conflicts would not be unreasonable.
  • Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions.  The current number of war refugees and displaced persons — 7,800,000 — is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.
  • 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. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed.  For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet. 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.
  • 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.

The folks at the Costs of War project also admit that “there are many costs of these wars that we have not yet been able to quantify and assess.” Unfortunately, they’ve received absolutely no help from mainstream economists who, through their lack of attention to the costs of war, perpetuate the deception that warfare is cheap.

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