What is $1 trillion really worth?
This May 30 at 10:06 a.m., we will reach another dubious milestone in our almost nine years of war. At that precise moment, we will have spent $1 trillion in operational costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tracked by the National Priorities Project's cost of war counter.
What is $1 trillion worth? NPP explains it this way: if you made a million dollars a year, it would take you a million years to earn $1 trillion.
Of course, most Americans don't earn $1 million a year. In fact 9.9 percent earn nothing because they are unemployed. It's a shame that we have wasted that $1 trillion on war, rather than on a WPA-style program to repair our roads and bridges that could have hired those 15.3 million people out of work for $50,000 apiece. And on top of that, we would still have had a cool $235 billion left over to invest in clean energy, producing 3.9 million green jobs while reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, according to a study by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Many such tradeoffs exist, tantalizing us with what could have been. For instance, with that $1 trillion we could have given 4-year scholarships at state universities to the 2 million freshmen currently enrolled - and do the same thing again in each of the next 23 years. Or we could have provided the estimated 500,000 homeless families across the U.S. with affordable housing - and done that each year for the next 17 years.
In other words, $1 trillion has the potential to completely wipe out major domestic social problems that desperately need funding as we cope with the effects of the great recession.
But some very different choices have been made. Runaway spending on the wars and the military in general, puts us in a situation where priorities like education, housing and many other vital domestic needs will be taking a back seat. Is war worth it?
Congress is on the verge of approving yet another "emergency" war spending supplemental, this time for $34 billion to pay for the escalation of troops in Afghanistan. Last weekend (May 22-23) for the first time the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan surpassed those in Iraq. We're winding down one misguided conflict only to accelerate another. And we're doing so with borrowed money. For generations we will be paying the price of these wars with a diminished capacity to respond to the needs of people and communities in our own country.
Sadly, our unfunded domestic needs are not the only cost of war. Why do we continue to spend in pursuit of a military solution in Afghanistan when nearly nine years of war should prove that it is not working? Imagine what spending a fraction of that money on building schools for Afghan girls, or rebuilding an infrastructure decimated by 30 years of war and occupation, could do for the "hearts and minds" we currently are trying to win through drone strikes and the spring offensive in Khandahar.
The human and economic cost of the wars cannot be separated. In yet another sad convergence, we will reach this $1 trillion milestone on Memorial Day weekend. There is no way to quantify the tragedy of the lost lives of the U.S. soldiers and countless Iraqi and Afghan civilians. Each dollar spent on the wars not only was diverted from peaceful, productive projects, but also contributed to these lives lost. That is the greatest tragedy of all.
Take some time this weekend to remember those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. And take a moment to let your members of Congress know that this out-of-control war spending is NOT worth one more dollar or one more life.
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