Investing in Violence and Death

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chance for Peace speech (1953)

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower, Military-Industrial Complex Speech (1961)

It’s not the Americans, what they are doing in this country or that, or the Germans or the French or such. It’s the dominant interests in that country. If anything, the common people in these countries are themselves also the victims. It’s their taxes that are used to raise the armies. It’s their sons and brothers and now daughters and such who go in and pay the price in blood.
~Michael Parenti, Empire vs. Democracy (2005)

US Budgetary Costs of Wars through 2016: $4.79 Trillion and Counting Summary of Costs of the US Wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan and Homeland Security
by Neta C. Crawford, Watson Institute

As of August 2016, the US has already appropriated, spent, or taken on obligations to spend more than $3.6 trillion in current dollars on the wars in Iraq,  Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria and on Homeland Security (2001 through fiscal year 2016). To this total should be added the approximately $65 billion in dedicated war spending the Department of Defense and State Department have requested for the next  fiscal year, 2017, along with an additional nearly $32 billion requested for the Department of Homeland Security in 2017, and estimated spending on veterans in  future years. When those are included, the total US budgetary cost of the wars reaches $4.79 trillion.

But of course, a full accounting of any war’s burdens cannot be placed in columns on a ledger. From the civilians harmed or displaced by violence, to the soldiers killed and wounded, to the children who play years later on roads and fields sown with improvised explosive devices and cluster bombs, no set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how they have spilled into the neighboring states of Syria and Pakistan, and come home to the US and its allies in the form of wounded veterans and contractors. Yet, the expenditures noted on government ledgers are necessary to apprehend, even as they are so large as to be almost incomprehensible. […]

In addition, any reasonable estimate of the costs of the wars includes the fact that each war entails essentially signing rather large promissory notes to fulfill the US obligations for medical care and support for wounded veterans. These future obligations will total approximately an additional $1 trillion in medical and disability payments and additional administrative burden through 2053.

What Has Not Been Counted
Economic Costs
Watson Institute

This total omits many other expenses, such as the macroeconomic costs to the US economy; the opportunity costs of not investing war dollars in alternative sectors; future interest on war borrowing; and local government and private war costs. […]

Spending on the wars has involved opportunity costs for the US economy. Although military spending does produce jobs, spending in other areas such as health care could produce more jobs. Additionally, while investment in military infrastructure grew, investment in other, nonmilitary, public infrastructure such as roads and schools did not grow at the same rate.

Finally, federal war costs exclude billions of dollars of state, municipal, and private war costs across the country – dollars spent on services for returned veterans and their families, in addition to local homeland security efforts.

Refugees & Health
Watson Institute

The insecurity that Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis face extends far beyond the guns and blasts of the war. It includes lack of secure access to food, health care, housing, employment, and clean water and sanitation, as well as the loss of community.

For war refugees, these problems are exacerbated in the face of exile. Approximately 10.1 million people in these war zones have been displaced and are living in grossly inadequate conditions.

Post-9/11 Wars Have Cost Nearly $5 Trillion (and Counting)
by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams

However, even if the U.S. stopped spending on war at the end of this fiscal year, the interest costs, such as debt for borrowed funds, would continue to rise. Post-9/11 military spending was financed almost entirely by borrowing, which in turn has driven debt and interest rates, the project has previously noted.

Separate reporting late last month by the U.K.-based watchdog Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) found that the Pentagon could only account for 48 percent of small arms shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11—meaning more than half of the approximately 700,000 guns it sent overseas in the past 15 years are missing.

What’s more, a recent Inspector General audit report found a “jaw-dropping” $6.5 trillion could not be accounted for in Defense spending.

The results of Crawford’s report, released last week, follow previous estimates by prominent economists like Nobel Prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes, whose 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War made similar claims.

Crawford’s report continues: “Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023. By 2053, interest costs will be at least $7.9 trillion unless the U.S. changes the way it pays for the war.

And, Crawford notes, that’s a conservative estimate.

No set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how they have spilled into the neighboring states of Syria and Pakistan, and come home to the U.S. and its allies in the form of wounded veterans and contractors,” the report states. “Yet, the expenditures noted on government ledgers are necessary to apprehend, even as they are so large as to be almost incomprehensible.”

War on Terror Could Be Costliest Yet
by Andrew Soergel, U.S. News

$4.79 trillion total exceeds spending on any single war the U.S. has ever fought.

The Congressional Research Service, for example, estimates the U.S. spent $4.4 trillion on World War II, when adjusted for inflation and converted to 2016 dollars. The Vietnam War is estimated to have cost $789.5 billion, while the Korean War cost $364.8 billion.

Even in terms of noncombat government expenditures, Crawford’s multitrillion-dollar price tag is daunting. The Interstate Highway System is believed to have cost $500 billion to construct, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Project Apollo missions that first sent men to the moon cost more than $135 billion in 2016 dollars. Digging the original Panama Canal is believed to have cost a little more than $9 billion. […]

But even if the U.S. stopped spending on war at the end of this fiscal year, interest costs alone on borrowing to pay for the wars will continue to grow apace,” she said. “Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023.”

Losing Hearts and Minds and Money

The supposed reconstruction of Iraq sounds like a key example of bureaucracy taking on a life of its own, where having the results looking good on paper became more important than ensuring actual results. Massive amounts of money were thrown around to make it look like something was being accomplished, with large numbers of troops there for almost a decade to help in the process.

On Not Caring About Lives Sacrificed

Did you know that about the same number of people died because of the Vietnam War as have died because of the Iraq War? That death count is a bit over a million for each war.

Endless Outrage

The illegal and unconstitutional, immoral and unjustified Iraq War has already led to the death of probably at least a half million Iraqis and possibly over a million, most of those being civilians, many of whom were women and children, and surely way more than fifty gay people died in the process—not only that, it turned a stable secular society with a thriving economy and a strong middle class into a permanent war zone where Islamic extremists have taken over, creating yet one more stronghold for terrorists.

If you take the total death toll of the War On Terror, it is in the millions. Looking at one country alone, “total avoidable Afghan deaths since 2001 under ongoing war and occupation-imposed deprivation amount to around 3 million people, about 900,000 of whom are infants under five” and “Altogether, this suggests that the total Afghan death toll due to the direct and indirect impacts of US-led intervention since the early nineties until now could be as high 3-5 million.” More broadly: “According to the figures explored here, total deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s – from direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation – likely constitute around 4 million (2 million in Iraq from 1991-2003, plus 2 million from the “war on terror”), and could be as high as 6-8 million people when accounting for higher avoidable death estimates in Afghanistan.”

That is a small sampling of the kinds of things the United States and its allies have done and continue to do in the Middle East along with many other areas of the world (e.g., Latin America). In some cases, it might be a severe undercount of deaths. That doesn’t even include the crippled, traumatized, orphaned, dislocated, etc. Much of the refugee crisis right now is the result of Western actions in non-Western countries.

Cost of War

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Those truths are well established. They are read in every page which records the progression from a less arbitrary to a more arbitrary government, or the transition from a popular government to an aristocracy or a monarchy.
~James Madison, Political Observations (1795)

25 thoughts on “Investing in Violence and Death

  1. Here is what is scary. Climate change will probably cause more and more conflict in this century. We’ve already seen it but it’s just getting started. The problems we have with conflict and refugees right now are nothing compared to what can and probably will be

    • I wonder about that. I do think there is a limit to the population carrying load of the planet. And I suspect we are already beyond that point. But the costs are so easily externalized and deferred.

      The real issue is how fast will we experience the consequences of our past and continuing actions. Major climate change disruption has already begun, although for the time being it still is limited and isolated to particular regions. It’s hard to know how long the problems will have impacts on the larger world such that it can no longer be ignored.

      We may have hit the peak number of children. Or it might be a temporary stall. There are too many factors that are unpredictable such as changing technology, farming practices, healthcare, etc. The number of children would suddenly increase, even with the birthrate remaining the same or even dropping slightly, if cheap effective healthcare became available to most of the world’s population since most deaths from preventable diseases happen in infancy and early childhood.

      Combine that with the fact that people are living longer. The global population will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. I doubt that we’ll see a drop in the global population in the coming century, unless there is a global catastrophe that kills off large numbers of people. The human population, as with the neoliberal and neoconservative global order, will likely continue its present trends until it collapses or other external factors force it to stop. Of course, that is a very real possibility.

  2. The Western Roman Empire had a hard time dealing with this issue too. It’s an age old issue we can look at history for. People will be migrating when they have decade long droughts, their coast lines keep moving further inland, and food and crop output dwindles while population increases. It’s not a matter of “just kick them out of our country, they will be fine in their own shithole”. That mindset will bring about global conflict like we have never seen before, because once the super powers start rationalizing that hatred of “the other guys”, we are now playing ball with nukes.

    • Climate change will cause refugee crises which will in turn cause international conflict, getting worse and worse until it breaks out into all out war. World War III (using nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons) would then be the most probable cause of a precipitous population decline.

      The major superpowers could act to prevent or prepare for such possibilities, but they won’t. There is no moral leadership and political will to deal with it. It seems the elite have given up and are treating it all as inevitable. Each of the superpowers hopes to simply be in a position to be the last man standing.

      It’s sort of like when the Bronze Age collapse happened and only the Egyptian Empire remained. Of course, Egypt was never the same after that. They were forced into complete isolation and didn’t fully recover, instead falling into a slow decline over the following centuries.

  3. So, concerning moving people to big cities, there are a few significant issues that need to be addressed about building large cities in affected and poor countries, rather than refuge in richer or less affected countries:
    The first is resource cost, the key problem with climate change isn’t that we run out of space to stand or sleep, but we run out of productive land to farm, clean water to drink and that non-renewable resources run out. A/C requires vast amounts of energy, as does water filtration, and sewage and waste disposal. Moving people to cities does not address this, it simply localises the issue. Rather than 10 million people drinking from 5 reservoirs, there are 10 million drinking from one. To make up any resource deficit these would have to imported, driving up costs, lowering supply and creating shortages.
    Secondly to say that overall “most countries import everything they use daily” is a little inaccurate, most countries export and import a lot, but have very large internal markets as well. As a whole, humanity produces as much as it consumes, (treating oil drilling as production). If one countries food production shrinks, then another’s would have to rise to keep production the same, if not, then food security reduces. Whats more is that as resources become more scarce, protectionism rises, and governments will create tariffs to discourage exporting or importing food, leaving those with plummeting production to starve. If they didn’t, then most likely the poorest of every country would starve, or rationing would be introduced.
    Thirdly, people forced to move to big cities for refuge are still refugees, they are just internal, and they still have similar effects to international refugees, although reduced (e.g. less cultural difference)
    Finally I hope tech provides a solution, but I wouldn’t be too optimistic about it, stuff like vertical farms require masses of water, energy, building materials, fertiliser and other scarce resources. Climate change will create a definite drop in living standards, policy and technology can affect its size and who it falls on, but it can’t prevent it, not anymore.
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    [–]etcimon 1 point 9 hours ago
    That was an interesting read thanks. I’m not avoiding to address each issue, but I think the common denominator is energy. Nations require lots of energy to gather resources, to build, and in this case to accommodate internally displaced refugees. This energy would help for desalination plants, indoor farming, vertical building, etc. Which of course requires an abundance of low-cost energy.
    This leads me to this fact: we grew to 7+ billion people thanks to the combined industrial revolution and petroleum age. What is going to keep us up there now that oil is near its peak and climate change is threatening even the flat 200 million population we had maintained before it? We can argue about a lot of energy sources, and that’s because it really becomes the root of the problem. Which energy will fuel the immense overpopulation of the planet, and also keep it clean? I have my hopes on fusion power, having it the way we’ve envisioned it would literally save the world, and fuel a new kind of revolution.

    • If a new form of highly concentrated urban living were to develop, it would go along with new developments in energy sources, food production, and water management (including more effective usage and reuse).

      It would be a complete overhaul of every aspect of society, economy, and politics. What it wouldn’t be is simply an extension of the present. That world would be so far different from the present as to be unimaginable to us.

      Efficient use of everything would become a core principle. Very little would be wasted or simply thrown away. If modern civilization survives, humans in the coming centuries will do far more with far less.

  4. and you would think that the experience of war would be a deterrent, that after one, there would be a refractory period where people remembered, for at least a few years the pain of it and avoided the next one for longer. I guess it’s technological change, the numbers of Americans lost in these wars aren’t really enough to traumatize enough voters to make a change, make us stop electing warmongers.

    Have we talked about the great peace before WWI? I read in a rather old book, The Outline of History, I think, H. G. Wells, that the peace had been so long and deep in Europe before WWI, like fifty years, that no leaders or generals had the experience – I guess some deterrent effect had worked there and then – of actual war or how to end one, and that was why WWI went on far beyond reason, until even the ‘victors’ were starving, until there was nothing left of anyone’s country. I find that so compelling, I’m not sure why. Don’t you?

    • There is always a certain part of the population that remembers past conflicts and are reluctant to get into new conflicts. World War I veterans were among the strongest opponents of US involvement in WWII. Children who grew up watching the news about WWII were among the strongest opponents against the Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation. But as always, the following generations have no appreciation for what came before.

      I’m not familiar with that book, The Outline of History. But I’ve come across that explanation from other sources. Maybe it’s the same basic argument as found in Christopher Clark’s recent book, The Sleepwalkers. Conflicts kept increasing and yet few thought it would get so far out of control. The reality of large-scale international conflict was simply a distant memory. Also, it was hard for people back then to appreciate how much more violent and destructive modern warfare would be.

      Like you, I find it compelling. It doesn’t matter if violence is psychologically distant because of time or space. Most people can only sense the reality of something to the degree it is within their immediate experience and personal life. For Americans today, those millions of people dead in other countries are not real. But if millions of Americans died, the reality would be undeniable. Yet that reality will come our way because blowback is inevitable. US military imperialism is helping to create the conditions for World War III. And few will see it coming until it is already too late.

  5. It’s a weird group mentality. You don’t seek outside help because you can’t trust it; it’s like some overgrown kind of playground but worse. If you have a problem with someone, you deal with it yourself. Or you get your friends/family together and you go after the person/persons. You don’t go to the cops, you don’t ask for outside help outside of your group, because if you ask for outside help it means you lose face. You can’t solve your own problems. You’re bringing outsiders into the mix. You’re no longer part of the group. You’re now a marked target.
    Couple that with a mistrust of the cops and you wind up with no one knowing anything even though there’s blood everywhere. The victim has family, right? They’ll find out who did what. And they’ll seek justice.
    It’s a sick and twisted little feral world but it’s what happens when you feel cut off from the larger society. You aren’t a part of it, and so its system of protections don’t apply to you. It’s all about how good you are and how good your friends are. That’s all you should need.
    Friend of mine grew up in a place like that. She was molested by an uncle. No one took it to the cops… he just disappeared. Family took care of it. You solve your own problems when you live at the bottom.

    • That is because sometimes when the poor call the cops they get shot by them when they show up. Many cops end up seeing all poor people as potential threats, even those seeking help. Poor communities are often like war zones and the police act like occupying forces. Who would go to an occupying force for help?

    • “The PTSD 30 percent of inner city kids experience is making it more difficult for them to learn, according to the doctors. Most live in “virtual war zones,” and are actually suffering from a more complex form of the disorder.”

      What does anyone expect when entire populations are forced into desperate and hopeless poverty, unemployment, homelessness, etc? Is anyone surprised that people living in desperate conditions feel desperate and act desperately?

      Then on top of this, the police act like an occupying force where the residents typical experience is that of police abuse and harassment, police brutality and shootings, school-to-prison pipelines and mass incarceration. In some communities, the majority of men are unemployed ex-cons. They went to prison because they turned to the black market because of lack of jobs. And then because they have ex-con status they are even less likely to find a job.

      Any normal human would be traumatized in this situation. The 30% is surely a severe undercount. My guess is that a 100% of inner city kids in the poorest neighborhoods are traumatized to some extent, whether or not it is ever diagnosed. No one escapes from severe poverty unscathed. It leaves a permanent mark on the mind and body, showing up in brainscans and passed on epigenetically.

    • I wonder if there is more going on. Obesity is connected to colorectal cancer. But obesity, like cancer, is connected to other things. Increased toxicity is handled by the body in storing toxins in fat cells, causing the individual to gain weight. This makes losing weight difficult because it then releases the toxins.

      We live in a highly toxic environment these days, as toxins are found in our food from chemicals used in farming, additives, and packaging. An entire generation is being used as guinea pigs. It’s similar to how my generation was used as a guinea pig to see the effects of large-scale childhood lead toxicity.

      There is another possible factor as well. The younger generation is the most medicated in history. Most of these drugs haven’t been on the market that long and so research on them is limited. We don’t know the long term consequences on biological development and health issues. We are gambling with the lives of the young.

      The cavalier attitude of our society is mind-boggling. We have absolutely no sense of caution. And we have even less concern for victims. The individual will always be blamed and scapegoated.

    • Also, junk food and fast food are highly addictive. In fact, a lot of research has been done to make the more addictive, not unlike what tobacco companies once did. And highly manipulative advertising campaigns have been directed at children, not unlike what tobacco companies once did.

      There are many ridiculous myths in nutrition. The idea that losing weight is all about calories and willpower is one of the worst. The truth is… sugar and highly processed junk foods can be addictive, just like drugs. Not only are the behavioral symptoms the same, but the biology also happens to agree. […]

      1. Junk Foods Flood The Brain With Dopamine
      2. Junk Foods Can Lead to Powerful Cravings
      3. Imaging Studies Have Shown That Junk Foods Light up the Same Brain Areas as Drugs of Abuse
      4. A Tolerance to The “Rewarding” Effects Builds up
      5. Many People Binge on Junk Foods
      6. Cross-Sensitization: Lab Animals Can Switch From Drugs to Sugar, and Vice Versa
      7. Drugs That Fight Addiction Are Being Used For Weight Loss
      8. Abstaining Can Lead to Withdrawal Symptoms
      9. Junk Foods Are Seriously Harmful to Physical Health
      10. Junk Foods Are Seriously Harmful to Physical Health

      Mudd then did the unthinkable. He drew a connection to the last thing in the world the C.E.O.’s wanted linked to their products: cigarettes. First came a quote from a Yale University professor of psychology and public health, Kelly Brownell, who was an especially vocal proponent of the view that the processed-food industry should be seen as a public health menace: “As a culture, we’ve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco.”


      1. Chemical addiction

      Dr. Neal Barnard M.D., of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has this to say6,

      “There is a drug used in emergency rooms called naloxone. It’s used for heroin overdose. A guy comes in overdosed on heroin, comatose, he’s going to die. If you inject him with this drug and it blocks the opiate receptors in the brain, heroin doesn’t work, he wakes up. If I give that same drug to a real chocolate addict, a person who just shovels it in, you find the most amazing thing. They lose much of their interest in chocolate. They take a bite, they set it back down.

      In other words, it’s not the “taste in the mouth” feel, it’s the drug effect of the food in the brain which keeps us coming back”.

      Dr. Barnard further explains –

      “If you look at the menu at a fast food restaurant, they use all of the addicting components. They’ll take a slab of meat, cover it with cheese – cheese, of course, which is filled with casomorphins, the opiates that are found in cheese protein. And then they serve it with a sugary soda, which has the addictive power of sugar, with plenty of added caffeine” (Caffeine is a highly addictive drug. Plus, you learned in the chapter on wheat that wheat also has opiate-like substances in it).

      This chemical addiction is so bad, that scientists found that rats fed nothing but junk food from the supermarket (bacon, sausage, cheese cake etc) for long enough, not only got obese – they voluntarily starved themselves when later offered nothing but healthy food. It got so bad, that after 40 days of addiction, the rats were willing to put up with painful electric shocks to the feet, just so they could get hold of more junk food!

      We need to make new laws where addictive food is concerned. As Pediatric Endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig says, free speech does not work with addictive substances, especially where children are concerned8.

      1. Emotional addiction

      Banzhaf III, Law Professor, George Washington University9 has this to say:

      “A secret study by one of the tobacco companies had the ominous title of something like ‘Brand Imprinting for later actuation in life’ ”.

      You can bet that the junk food companies have something similar. That’s why junk food companies spend so much on advertising to children. They want you to have commands in your brain to eat their food, combined with good feelings from childhood, buried in your mind. For example, the average American child sees a whopping 10,000 ads per year for things to eat and drink. 95% of these ads are for fast food, candy, soft drinks and cereals, none of which are nutritious.

      Don’t go thinking it’s just McDonalds, either. All junk food and pre-packaged food is contributing to fat gain, because of the toxins and excess calories which they contain.

      Any food outlet which does not give you a list of all their ingredients is suspect. I am not talking about a chart that says how many calories or grams of fat are in the food, but what is in the food. In fact, even with the list of ingredients, you still don’t get to know the quantity of each ingredient. Listen to a quote from the lawsuit against McDonalds:

      “McDonald’s claims that …it is… a matter of common knowledge that any processing that its foods undergo serve to make them more harmful than unprocessed foods.”

  6. How they are born is really only half of it. A person can be born into a perfect environment, nurtured correctly, and still go on to commit terrible acts. Or, a totally normal person can be exposed to so much inhumanity that they can eventually be capable of committing terrible acts. But usually it’s a complex balance between the two, making it impossible to predict.
    Alternatively, a “diagnosed” psychopath could live an entire life without hurting others.
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    [–]BertDeathStare 57 points 4 hours ago
    Or, a totally normal person can be exposed to so much inhumanity that they can eventually be capable of committing terrible acts. But usually it’s a complex balance between the two, making it impossible to predict.
    This is almost always the case with serial killers.
    Look up any serial killer, 9 times out of 10 they had a terrible childhood full of abuse.
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    [–]JimJonesIII 53 points 4 hours ago

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