The Real Costs of War

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Most discussion about the “costs of war” focuses on two numbers: dollars spent and American troops who gave their lives. A decade into the war on terror, those official costs are over a trillion dollars and more than 6,000 dead. But as overwhelming as those numbers are, they don’t tell the full story.

In one of the most comprehensive studies available, researchers in the Eisenhower Study Group at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies looked at the human, economic, social and political costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as our military actions in Pakistan. Their complete findings are available at The numbers below are all from their report, which is dated June 2011. When the study cites both conservative and moderate estimates, we’ve chosen the conservative numbers. It is difficult to find more recent tallies for most of these numbers, but up-to-date totals of U.S. military deaths, along with photos and biographical information, can be found in The Washington Post’s Faces of the Fallen collection.

Army Nurse supervisor Patrick McAndrew tries to save the life of an American soldier wounded in a Baghdad firefight with insurgents Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2004. The soldier died. This photograph is one in a portfolio of Associated Press that won a Pulitzer Prize in breaking news photography. (AP/John Moore)

The Dead

6051 U.S. service members
2,300 U.S. contractors
9,922 Iraqi security forces
8,756 Afghan security forces
3,520 Pakistani security forces
1,192 Other allied troops
11,700 Afghan civilians
125,000 Iraqi civilians
35,600 Pakistanis (civilians and insurgents)
10,000 Afghan insurgents
10,000 Members of Saddam Hussein’s army
168 Journalists
266 Humanitarian workers

Total:  224,475 lives lost

The Wounded

99,065 U.S. soldiers
51,031 U.S. contractors
29,766 Iraq security forces
26,268 Afghan security forces
12,332 Other allied troops
17,544 Afghan civilians
109,558 Iraqi civilians
19,819 Pakistani civilians

Total: 365,383 wounded

The Displaced

3,315,000 Afghan civilians
3,500,000 Iraqi civilians
1,000,000 Pakistani civilians

Total: 7,815,000 refugees and internally displaced people

Costs to the American Taxpayer

$1.3 trillion in Congressional War Appropriations to the Pentagon — the official budget for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

$3.7-4.4 trillion estimated total costs to American taxpayers. This includes the official Pentagon budget (above), veterans’ medical and disability costs, homeland security expenses, war-related international aid and the Pentagon’s projected expenditures to 2020.

$1 trillion more in interest payments through 2020 on money the U.S. borrowed for war.

Social, Political and Environmental Cost

Hundreds of thousands of people have been detained in the ten years since 9/11; the unjust treatment some endured has led to mistrust towards the United States across the entire region. Here in the U.S., Muslims endure racial profiling, hate crimes and workplace discrimination.

The so-called military-industrial complex has been bolstered by increased military spending, with hundreds of billions of dollars going to private companies. One company, Lockheed Martin, received $29 billion in Pentagon contracts in 2008 alone — more than the Environmental Protection Agency ($7.5 billion), the Department of Labor ($11.4 billion) or the Department of Transportation ($15.5 billion).

War-related pollution has affected the health of Iraqis — a study showed significantly higher rates of cancer and infant mortality in Iraq than in neighboring countries. Depleted uranium used in ammunition is thought to be a culprit. Toxic dust on military bases has contributed to a 251 percent increase in rate of neurological disorders, 47 percent increase in rate of respiratory problems and 34 percent increase in rates of cardiovascular disease in military service members since 2001.

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  • Ab

    What can i say? than just put my hand on my mouth! 

  • Anthony

    What would Jesus say?

  • Sue Weinheimer

    We have allowed all of this to occur because there has not been a draft of our young people into the military services. Therefore, because those who did/do not want to join have gone on with their lives. We have lost our moral compass when it comes to interfering in the lives of other countries. Especially during George W. Bush’s regime, we were controlled by a mentality of leadership that believes in controlling the lives of others and keeping whatever the conflict off of our shores. That effort has pauperized us in monetarily and morally. Have we become like a pack of wild dogs, grabbing at what we can get for ourselves and ignoring the rest, globally and within? We are now trying to get out and stop the bleeding of our human and other tangible resources, but we cannot avoid the blame, folks. We have allowed this thing to happen!

  • Patrick

    how much did  cheney and halliburton get 

  • Anonymous

    Meanwhile, we number more than seven billion people who all strive to live like royalty and cause untold environment destruction which is accelerating climate change beyond the point of no return. However, we blindly treat it — and  the accompanying costs of war — as “the new normal” also known as “shifting baselines”. 
    Rudy Haugeneder

  • Anonymous

    A little tact and wise management may often evade
    resistance, and carry a point, where direct force might be in vain.

  • 19obert63

    Dear Mr.Moyers.

    By just reading the above statistics made me sick to my stomach, imagine the pain on both sides who have a loved one that is dead or suffering: the Bible; Red Badge of Courage; Catch 22; Slaughterhouse Five; Guns of August; the Koran; All Quiet on the Western Front; the Beatles;
    Martin Luther King; Ghandi; Nelson Mandela; -who has the words to stop such madness?

  • Witness to History

    Sadly, in this case, “Numbers don’t lie.”

    However politicians do, e.g., Democratic Presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson, in this excerpt from one of his 1964 campaign addresses:

     “I will never send American boys to do what Asian boys ought to do for themselves.”

    Of course, as president, LBJ sent the first of many deployments of US Armed Forces combat divisions to Vietnam in December 1965,* following the specious “Gulf of Tonkin Incident,” which his administration used to manipulate the Congress into giving him, the commander-in-chief, unchecked war powers and the necessary appropriations (considering the foregoing and the history of the George W. Bush administration’s Iraq invasion policy, we observe that Shakespeare was correct in writing the maxim, “Past is Prologue.”)

    It has been said, “The People get the government they deserve.”  Sad, but in my experience, true.

    *I arrived in January 1966; was shot in the head on St. Patrick’s Day
    ’66, and again, much more seriously wounded and permanently disabled, on
    June 11, ’66.

  • Frances in California

    Dear 19o,

    We all have the words to stop the madness; the trick is to say them to the people who can hear – returning PTSD vets.  We also need to say them softly and with sensitivity because these vets. have been lied to so egregiously.  We won’t prevail in our lifetimes, but that’s not a good reason NOT to start.  Thanks for good reading list and thoughts,  Frances in California

  • Abdullah Mace

    I’m an American Muslim and the sight of the US soldier on the stretcher fighting for his life is heartbreaking. It is so sad that after just a long history, we human beings still don’t get it…we need to bring the troops home…war is tearing this nation apart and returning to us, broken men.