Let’s stop talking about how dumb President Bush is: He’s smarter than we are. He wraps whatever he wants to accomplish, from lower taxes to more drilling, in the flag of his “war on terror.” And he has waged the perfect “war” for a self-indulgent capitalist democracy, which worships at the altar of individualism at the expense of the community.
As directed by the Bush Administration, the “war on terror” is being fought by professionals, first responders and contractors. And since it is being financed with debt, the average citizen has not been called on to make any meaningful sacrifice. It is as if we are buying this war: Specialists are fighting it; future generations are paying for it. The war itself has become a consumer item.
By conflating Saddam Hussein’s regime with the attacks of 9/11, Bush has given the American people what they wanted: a real shoot-’em-up to watch on television and an economy that continues to grow at decent rates of 3 percent to 4 percent a year. The President’s prescription that we keep personal spending levels high has met no resistance from the right or the left. And like the federal government, we have borrowed heavily to pay the bill.
Similarly, the government has borrowed a technique from the private sector in which we increase productivity by investing capital in machinery and equipment. So in this contemporary military struggle, capital has been successfully substituted for lives, with superior technology serving as a force multiplier to increase the lethality of our troops, while minimizing casualties. The ratio of American wounded to dead is higher in Iraq than it was in any past wars, presumably due to investment in superior protection and medical treatment. A perverse side effect of that greater protection is the unprecedented proportion of grievously wounded, which will impose a meaningful cost on our society for years to come.
Today, according to The Military Balance, an annual publication of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, there are 2.8 million people enlisted in the military, roughly 1 percent of the population. The proportion of our citizenry that is enlisted is lower now than it was in any past wars–save the Mexican War of 1846 or the Spanish-American War of 1898. With all the headlines, the “war on terror,” including the Afghan and Iraqi theaters, outlasted only by the Revolutionary and Vietnam wars, has (so far) been one of our least costly in human casualties as a percent of the population.
Many articles have been written discussing the huge cost of the Iraq War in terms of dollars and lives–which it is. But I wanted to put these costs in the context of past conflicts by looking at casualties as a percentage of the population and the dollar cost in relationship to the economy.
The human cost of war: Each column represents US casualties as a percentage of the population; lines represent total casualties.
Sources: US Department of Commerce, Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970; US Department of Commerce, Statistical Abstract of the United States and US Census Bureau