The Costs of War

Department: 

Dear Friends: The lifelong work for peace of Ted Neff, member of Davis Friends Meeting, has inspired us to write about our country’s decisions to conduct war.

During the last 50 years our military has been involved in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, which were opposed by many citizens. In all three wars soldiers risked their lives, not fighting for our independence, freedom or democracy.  Our government started these military conflicts and, after spending taxpayers’ money, then searched for a politically feasible way of withdrawing.  These wars have caused enormous human tragedies affecting millions of people.  

The total military costs of these wars have been over $2.8 trillion. This amount of money could have built about 10,000 miles of high speed train system; or about 80,000 miles of light rail system; or 200,000 miles of city busways; or purchased 7 million buses; or installed 5-MW solar systems on 80 million houses; or constructed over 1.2 thousand of 370-MW solar power plants;  or 1.4 million of 1 MW wind turbines; or provided 7 billion iPads to all people around the world.  

The paradox is that these trillions of dollars invested for the US military operations did not produce victory in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. This does not indicate a weakness of the US army; rather, world problems require economic and social solutions.  Economic interdependence between the USA and countries in Asia, Europe and Africa is strongly reducing the threat of any world war.  The concept of “war” is the mindset of many politicians and journalists.  Therefore they talk about war on terrorists, drugs, crime or even the war on poverty. 

It is always possible to learn from past errors and avoid repeating them in the future.  What would the benefits have been without any war in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan?  Several million people would not have been killed or wounded.  The national financial situation would have been healthier. Investment would have been channeled into our domestic resources and infrastructure systems, creating many job opportunities.  Funds would have been available for education and medical care. 

Let us remember the words of Dwight Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in a final sense, a theft from those who are hungry and not fed.  Those who are cold and 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.” 

Before the United States gets involved in yet another war, it would be beneficial for citizens and their leaders to consider the larger picture of the human and financial consequences of their decisions.

Vashek and Claudette Cervinka

Members of Davis Friends Meeting (Quaker), California