This article was originally published by the Ventura County Star.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War. As the longest and most costly war in U.S. history, the true costs in dollars, lives, environmental contamination and opportunity costs may never be fully appreciated.
This “preventive war” waged on our behalf has forever tainted the world view and standing of the U.S. Perhaps the most significant outcome of the war is the identification and clarification, a “how to” of what doesn’t work in resolving international conflict. Namely war itself.
Dollar estimates of the combined war costs range from $1.4 trillion to $4 trillion spent and obligated or a bill of between $4,500 and $12,742 for every man, woman and child in the U.S.
The human costs and death toll are immense. It is estimated that between 225,000 to more than 1 million have been killed when taking into account all the lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
To this tragedy are added the tens of thousands injured. Significant brain and spinal injuries to coalition forces approach 20 percent and PTSD 30 percent. The costs of treating these problems will continue for decades to come.
The respected international mediator John Paul Lederach suggests that going to war to defeat terrorism is like hitting a mature dandelion with a golf club — it only creates another generation of terrorists.
That graphic image is very telling in a part of the world where the mean age ranges from 17.9 in Afghanistan to 21.1 in Iraq. How will these future generations who lack the meeting of basic human needs respond to our war?
We have fallen victim to the idea that the “ends justify the means” when in reality the means are the ends in the making.
In his book Dying to Win, Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago examines the phenomenon of suicide bombing. His research reveals that despite religious conviction or revenge, the vast majority (95 percent) of suicide bombings always include the primary motivation of trying to push out foreign occupiers.
In a way to somehow sanitize or numb ourselves to the horrific effects of this war we have seen an entirely new lexicon added to our language. From drones to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) to TBI (traumatic brain injury) to collateral damage to enhanced interrogation (torture) to rendition (torturing prisoners in outsourced countries) to suicide bombers.
We have written legal treatises to soothe and justify our use of terrorism and assassination of even our own citizens. In the use of these methods, machines and practices, have we not become the embodiment of “the enemy”? What happens when the entire world has the same capabilities and beliefs? These are some of the realities after 10 years of war.
We have fallen into financial disarray at home, with a significant contribution from these wars. The robbing of our own social fabric to cover these costs will play out for years to come. Yet, there are those who would continue to dismantle our social infrastructure to continue this war effort and that of future wars at any cost. How we address the facts at hand will determine our future and that of the world.
Indeed conflict is inevitable. War is optional. We have the necessary means to address conflict without war. The means are the ends in the making.