The US has spent $6 trillion on wars which killed half a million people since 9/11
The US has long been the moral arbitrator of the world. In what was perhaps its finest hour, US forces enabled the Western Allies to triumph over the spreading tide of Nazism, ending World War II. However, in an age of globalisation, terror attacks and digital technology, the wars - or military conflicts - in which America engages are altogether different.
Yet two things have not changed - the enormous human and financial cost. In the Iraq War alone, at least 66,000 civilians died. Derived directly from classified documents released by WikiLeaks, this figure revealed an extra 15,000 dead on top of the nearest reliable body count. However, the latest “Cost of War” report, by Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, has exposed even more concerning numbers.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the US has ramped up its foreign intervention - in the hopes of bringing democracy to despotic countries and justice to the victims of terror. In fact, the US is currently involved in seven overseas conflicts - a fact which was publicly acknowledged last year. But the human cost, according to the Watson Institute report, stands at half a million people.
This is neither the number of deceased Americans, nor the number of deceased enemy combatants but the overall number of the deceased including US forces, allies, enemy combatants and civilians. While loss of life may be seen by some as mere collateral damage, these conflicts have cost the American taxpayer nearly $6 trillion.
"The United States has appropriated and is obligated to spend an estimated $5.9 trillion (in current dollars) on the war on terror through Fiscal Year 2019,” the report states, “including direct war and war-related spending and obligations for future spending on post 9/11 war veterans.”
For any country engaged in conflict, there is a dilemma of transparency. Existing as we do in an age of smoke, mirrors and Public Relations, the US government has been accused of trying to twist statistics. The overall number of US soldiers on foreign soil, for instance, has been reduced thanks to the thousands of military advisors (or “guns for hire”, according to the liberal press) which the US army has used.
The study found that the "US military is conducting counterterror activities in 76 countries, or about 39 percent of the world's nations, vastly expanding across the globe." It adds that these conflicts "have been accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties, in the US and abroad." Overall, the Watson Institute researchers estimated that "between 480,000 and 507,000 people have been killed in the United States’ post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan."
One major cause of domestic protestation is America’s use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or “drones”. Removing the human aspect of warfare - and taking with it the risk of death or injury - countries which use UAVs find themselves the subject of intense scrutiny. Nonetheless, the use of UAVs skyrocketed under Obama and President Trump has now revoked the rule dictating that their use must be reported to the American public.
“In sum, high costs in war and war-related spending pose a national security concern because they are unsustainable," the report concludes. "The public would be better served by increased transparency and by the development of a comprehensive strategy to end the wars and deal with other urgent national security priorities."
General William Westmoreland, who served during the Vietnam War and died in 2005, was an infamous proponent of firepower. However, while the GIs’ M16 rifles jammed at the slightest mention of grit or dirt, the Viet Cong’s AK-47s worked even after being submerged in water. Furthermore, without the hearts and minds of civilians, it was an ideological war that America couldn’t win. But it wouldn’t be its last.
The US is in no way solely responsible for the deaths of half a million people since 9/11 - after all, some of its recent conflicts have involved vast coalitions involving dozens of nations. That said, the figure of half a million is conservative. Some studies have concluded that the body count of the Iraq War alone stands in excess of 650,000.
Most important, however, is the fact that bombing less economically developed countries only serves to breed more resentment and - in turn - more extremism. On the face of it, the war on terror is a cause we can all get behind. However, despite years of trying, thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars, we simply cannot win a war against an abstract noun.