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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