Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

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.


Special mention


Special mention


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 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.

Special mention

Special mention (in honor of yesterday’s GOP primary results)

The United States is involved in four wars right now: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan. What are the costs?

As it turns out, there’s no easy way of calculating the costs of all these wars, at least in terms of publicly available government statistics. Public appropriations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been $1.3 trillion. But that’s only the beginning.

Fortunately, others—but not, for the most part, mainstream economists—have done those calculations: Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, who concluded the wars will cost more than $3 trillion; and the Costs of War project by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, which arrives at $4 trillion and rising.

Christian Dorsey contrasts the lack of transparency of the costs of war with the accounting of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, “which has an entire website that gives laypersons, policy wonks and researchers customized looks at how virtually every dollar of ARRA funds were allocated and spent.”

This lack of transparency weakens our democracy by not allowing Americans to hold our elected officials accountable for decisions they make to engage in conflict. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) has introduced The Cost of War Act, a bill that takes only 91 words to direct the Department of Defense to publish, on a public website, the cost of our current wars. The value of such an action—especially if the end result is as robust as—would be to force this Congress to have an adult conversation about priorities, spending, deficits and debt. Right now, the only sunlight on federal spending shines on the non-defense, discretionary side, which is dwarfed by defense spending–all of which is discretionary. Exposing it all to the same level of scrutiny would lead to better debate among our policymakers.

It is also would lead to better debate among the citizenry, who are the ones suffering the effects of the money spent on all four wars—and not spent on creating jobs, lowering poverty, and improving social services.