The Tragic Costs of War

John W. Whitehead

Posted Dec 8, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The Tragic Costs of War

By John W. Whitehead

“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 ... known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few…. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
— James Madison, 1795

“Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. We must either learn to live together as brothers or we are going to perish together as fools.”
—Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

The madness continues. In a bitter stroke of irony, Barack Obama, the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has set America on the road to endless war—and, it must be said, endless death. All the while, Obama has essentially anointed himself, in the words of a Spiegel commentator, the “Nobel War Prize laureate.”

It is a terrible mantle for anyone to take on but most especially a president whom many Americans hoped would bring the troops home. Instead, at President Obama’s bidding, 30,000 more Americans will leave their homes and families in order to march to war in Afghanistan (bringing the total to 100,000 troops), and American taxpayers will continue to be bled dry in order to fuel the profits of the war machine. There has even been talk of a “war tax,” levied against anyone making more than $200,000 to pay for the war.

War is not cheap. Although the federal government obscures so much about its defense spending that accurate figures are difficult to procure, we do know that military spending is between 35-50% of all money spent by the U.S. government. In fact, Obama’s defense budget for the coming year could very well be the largest ever, possibly exceeding a trillion dollars.

Just consider the fact that the annual cost to support one U.S. servicemember in Afghanistan alone is over $1 million—twice the amount spent in Iraq. One of the reasons for the high cost of maintaining each soldier can be attributed to the lack of governmental oversight of private contractor billings, which are rampant with fraud, waste and fat—all designed to rip off the American taxpayer.

And then there are the human costs of war. The military and civilian deaths and casualties are bad enough. But it is also estimated that with the additional troops committed to Afghanistan by Obama, there will be at least 10,000 new cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and thousands more traumatic brain injuries to account for as our soldiers come limping home.

War has unfortunately become a huge money-making venture, and America, with its vast military empire, is one of its best customers. Indeed, the American military-industrial complex has erected an empire unsurpassed in history in its breadth and scope and dedicated to conducting perpetual warfare throughout the earth. For example, while erecting a security surveillance state in the U.S., the military-industrial complex has perpetuated a worldwide military empire with American troops stationed in 177 countries (over 70% of the countries worldwide).

However, as history tells us, countries that attempt to maintain military empires inevitably crumble under the weight of the exorbitant financial expenditures—as we saw with the financial collapse under George W. Bush—and the human costs that necessarily follow. Besides the inevitable moral collapse inherent in warring empires, freedom and civil liberties at home diminish rapidly. And instead of lessening terror and reducing our enemies, the present U.S. military empire has made us no safer anywhere as we see with the continuing U.S. conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the myriad other countries where American troops are stationed.

This is the very same military empire of which Dwight Eisenhower warned in his 1961 “Farewell Address to the Nation.”

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Eisenhower, who served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II, was alarmed by the rise of the killing machine that emerged following the war—one that, in order to perpetuate itself, would have to conduct war. The military-industrial complex, which is largely made up of private corporations whose existence and profit margins rely on military defense contracts and perpetual wars, now exercises an inordinate influence in the American government, and it is largely exempt from congressional oversight and answerable to practically no one.

The military-industrial complex runs a deadly game, one that all presidents, including Obama, play. But the consequences, as Eisenhower recognized, are grave:

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…This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Furthermore, the great moral and religious leaders throughout the ages have condemned violence and war—from Jesus to Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr., a Nobel Peace Prize winner himself. On April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, one year to the day before his assassination, King spoke out against the immorality and evils of war: “America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.”

King recognized that it was the poor who were being sent to fight wars. In addition, war teaches that the use of violence to achieve social change is acceptable. King stated, “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.”

Striking at the heart of the problem, King declared: “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.” He feared that if this malady were not corrected, the U.S. would continue to be involved in situations like Vietnam. Calling for a “radical revolution of values,” King stated, “We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”

Urging a “true revolution of values,” King went on to say that America must reform its notions regarding war. “A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘this way of settling differences is not just.’” His condemnation of war continued: “This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, or injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.”

The only solution, King declared, is “an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.” He maintained that “We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.”


Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Information about the Institute is available at