By Vashek and Claudette Cervinka
Our society lacks financial resources for the development of modern transportation systems, energy sources, education and other civilian programs. The military is not experiencing any shortage of funds. During the past 50 years, our country has been involved in three major wars opposed by many citizens.
All three wars have had similar characteristics. 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. More than 2.3 million people died in these three wars. More than 65,000 American soldiers lost their lives. More than 350,000 American soldiers and many Vietnamese, Iraqi and Afghani people were wounded. In addition, millions of people and families were directly affected by this loss of life.
The total military cost of these wars in fiscal year 2011 dollars was $738 billion in Vietnam, $886 billion in Iraq (including the Persian Gulf War) and more than $ 1.2 trillion in Afghanistan. It is estimated that the military costs of these three wars have topped $2.8 trillion.
The expenditure of this $2.8 trillion resulted in the death and injuries of millions of people, the destruction of property and the wasting of resources. This amount of money could have built about 10,000 miles of a high-speed train system, or about 80,000 miles of a light rail system, or 200,000 miles of city busways; or purchased 7 million buses; or installed 5-megawatt solar systems on 80 million houses, or constructed more than 1,200 solar plants generating 370 megawatts, or built 1.4 million 1-megawatt wind turbines, or provided 7 billion iPads to all people around the world. People would have benefited from new sources of energy, and better transportation and communication systems.
The world of the 21st century is different from the world as it existed during previous centuries. Any war between European countries is now unthinkable. Economic interdependence between the United States and countries in Asia, Europe and Africa is strongly reducing the threat of any world war. Competition for limited world resources may be intensive, but world and regional trade treaties are important expressions of our need to communicate. Population growth and technological developments are making our world a smaller place where cooperation is needed.
Expensive military technology is a symbol of past wars, when violence was committed by countries led by Adolf Hitler and similar dictators. This technology is not effective in combating crimes perpetrated by individuals or by terrorist groups. International police actions, rather than World War II-type operations, can more effectively deal with extreme criminal cases. The concept of “war” is the mind-set of many politicians and journalists. Therefore, they talk about war on terrorists, drugs, crime or even poverty.
The paradox is that these trillions of dollars invested in the U.S. military operations did not produce victory in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. This does not indicate a weakness of U.S. military forces; the government just applied the funds in an inappropriate way. World problems require economic and social solutions rather than war.
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 the enhancement of our energy/resource independence and the development of infrastructure systems appropriate for the 21st century. This would have created many job opportunities. Funds would have been available for education and medical care. World respect for our country would have been sustained.
Let us remember the words of former President Dwight Eisenhower, himself a former military commander: “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 are members of the Davis Friends Meeting (Quakers).