EthicsDaily.com editorials and columns expressed opposition to the war in Iraq before the war in Iraq, when TV news show pundits, politicians and too many preachers either crusaded for the war or said too little in opposition. Our opposition was rooted in the rules of just war.
One of those rules is that the benefits from war must outweigh the costs of war. The good must be greater than the human suffering and destruction that the war causes. The cost is defined by flesh and blood, crippled bodies, destroyed homes and damaged infrastructure. Generally speaking, discussions about just war often skip the financial costs of war. After all human lives and livelihoods are more important morally than money. Justice and human rights are more important than budget matters. Consequently, the financial costs of war are generally downplayed on the moral side of the ledger.
The Bush administration and other pro-war advocates certainly downplayed the cost of invading and occupying Iraq. Some claimed that Iraq’s oil revenues would pay for the war. Others dismissed projections of an expensive war as unrealistic. Still others expressed dismay that morally responsible citizens would even raise the issue of financial costs given the alleged enormity of the evil in Iraq and the threat to western civilization.
Given the incomprehensible nature of billions of dollars, most of us turned away or closed our ears to projected war costs.
At the beginning of the war’s sixth year with no end in sight, we read a comprehendible figure about the war costs.
The Iraqi war costs almost $5,000 per second, according to Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist.
Writing on Easter Sunday, Kristof said that the war bill was “accumulating at the rate of almost $5,000 every second!”
That’s right: $5,000 every second!
A Washington Post blogger wrote on Monday that “a war costing $5,000 per second seems so obscene.”
An Elmira Star-Gazette columnist wrote, “By the time you finish reading this sentence, America will have spent another $25,000 on the Iraq war.”
Citing Kristof’s column, he said, “That second-by-second cost totals about $411 million daily.”
That amounts to some $12.5 billion each month, according to Kristof, which is “only a down payment. We’ll still be making disability payments to Iraq war veterans 50 years from now.”
Referencing a new book that includes estimates of the long-term war cost, Kristof calculates that the war costs a family of four each month an estimated $330.
Imagine what we could accomplish if we spent that kind of money on public education, health care, alternatives to oil, combating the AIDS epidemic in Africa and blanketing the tropics with mosquito-repellent nets.
With $5,000 per second, we could probably meet the Millennium Development Goals, which are only a short seven years away. We could eradicate extreme hunger, reduce infant mortality, ensure environmental sustainability, promote gender equality and achieve universal primary education.
What would $5,000 per second do to strengthen the American economy–heading off housing foreclosures and guarding Social Security?
Yep. The Iraq war has real costs. Financial resources are wasted and unavailable for advancing the global good.
Isn’t it time that we started talking about spending $5,000 per second in the war in Iraq?
Silence isn’t a moral option. Silence represents moral surrender, moral acceptance of our own powerlessness in the face of a seemingly intractable situation.
Naming the war cost is a moral witness against the war, the pride that led us there and the denial that avoids the truth which can set us free.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.