The Problem with Our $6 Trillion War Tab

The Problem with Our $6 Trillion War Tab


We told you last week that the total long-term cost of post-9/11 wars is approaching $6 trillion, according to a report by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

It’s huge number, difficult to fully comprehend. But there’s more to than just the absolute dollar figure.

"It’s important for the American people to understand the true costs of war, both the moral and monetary costs," Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) said in a statement last week, according to The Hill. "Our nation continues to finance wars and military operations through borrowing, rather than asking people to contribute to the national defense directly, and the result is a serious fiscal drag that we’re not really accounting for or factoring into deliberations about fiscal policy or military policy.”

The U.S. cut taxes in 2001 and 2003 and has largely paid for the wars by borrowing. Steven Aftergood, who directs the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, echoed Reed’s comments. “Throughout most of US history, it was normal practice to raise taxes in times of war. When we were at war, everyone knew we were at war and everyone helped pay for it at least to some extent,” he said. “That is no longer true.”

Aftergood says that deficit financing has serious implications now — and will reverberate into the future:

“Deferring costs in this way does not mean, of course, that they will not be ultimately paid. It simply means that the cost burden will be shifted onto future generations that will no doubt have defense challenges and costs of their own. … The deferral of war costs into the indefinite future, exacerbated by tax cuts, inevitably means that public awareness of U.S. military operations is diminished or eliminated rather than heightened. It means that the ‘feedback loops’ that are at the heart of deliberative democracy are disabled. The public is not being forced, as it should be, to make difficult choices among competing priorities. Through the illusory magic of deficit spending, we are spared the knowledge of the burdens that we are placing on our future selves and on future generations. The budget lights may be flashing red, but they are shielded from our view.”

Also, lest we forget: The Brown University researchers also estimate that between 480,000 and 507,000 people have been killed in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, including more than 244,000 civilians and nearly 15,000 U.S. military and contractors.