The Facts of War
We here in the U.S. are among the lucky few. The last time a war was fought within our borders was the Civil War. Yet we are responsible for more wars than any other nation. Directly or indirectly, overtly and covertly, we are involved in dozens of wars.1,2 We support authoritarian dictatorships who wage wars against their own people, we send our troops and subcontracted mercenaries as “advisors” and every year, we provide the tanks, the planes, the mines, the guns, the bombs, the drones, the uranium-tipped missiles, the millions and millions of rounds of bullets that maim and slaughter tens of thousands of women, children and men3 and create millions more refugees year after year.4
Most Americans never get to experience war firsthand. So here are the facts of the wars waged around the world with our dollars and in our name.
Aside from the obvious death and destruction, wartime always brings higher prices and economic hardship for civilian populations on all sides of the conflict. As villages, towns, and agricultural lands are destroyed, people are displaced, food becomes scarce, and any way of earning a living disappears. The disrupted economy and disruptions to trade and food distribution networks have rippling effects that impact, first and foremost, the people with the least resources.
On all sides of the conflict, the ones who prosper are the war profiteers. But this is a small, elite group of people. Whether looking at the Civil War or the Iraq War, governments award their wartime contracts to a handful of well-connected industrialists. It’s the Carnegies and the Bechtels, the Boeings and the Conagras who get the massive government contracts, not the small factories or family-owned farms. And so, as more and more wealth gets concentrated into fewer and fewer circles, and as those elite circles make sure the tax structures and regulations serve their own needs and profits, the rest of the nation suffers increasing shortages and hardships with decreasing resources and access to government.
This is also the case in the U.S., where we’ve seen increasingly devastating cuts to schools, hospitals, fire departments, social services, etc., while the war-based corporations receive increasing billions in government contracts to fight the permanent “war on terror.” Just to wage the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. has spent over $1.5 trillion from 2001 to April 2014.5 Yet our economy continues to worsen, long-term under- and unemployment continues to grow, homeless shelters are running out of beds, schools and hospitals continue to shut down, and 16 million children will go to bed hungry tonight in America.6
In the U.S. and elsewhere, the majority of combatants in wars are usually the people who’ve been marginalized by society. The foot soldiers who form the bulk of armies are those who have few other options: They are economically disadvantaged, they are in the racial minority, and they are immigrants. From the Irish immigrants during the Civil War to the young black men and women from impoverished urban communities across America, they are all enticed to enlist with promises of money, pensions, education, housing, medical care. But in reality, if they survive being used as cannon fodder, they find the promises unfulfilled as they try to put their lives back together while dealing with missing limbs, devastating physical and emotional illnesses, unemployment, and inadequate medical care.
In regions unaffected by actual warfare, the prosperity enjoyed by the war profiteers are not shared with the workers, especially when workers are already paid inadequate wages and have no union protections. In fact, the workers become more deeply impoverished as speed-ups and longer hours at the same pay cut into their subsistence survival.
In regions unaffected by actual warfare, the prosperity enjoyed by the war profiteers is not shared with the majority of workers, especially when workers are already paid inadequate wages and have no union protections. In fact, workers often become more deeply impoverished as speed-ups and longer hours at the same pay cut into their subsistence survival.
At the same time, more and more desperate rural people—whose farms and homes were lost to warfare or the disrupted economy or the contracts that shifted to the larger farms—flock to the cities and factories in search of work and wages at any level. The ready supply of desperate workers always depresses wages and increases workplace hazards. This, in turn, causes more accidents, loss of limbs, exhaustion, illness, and death, all of which impoverishes workers and their families even more.
These are just some of the reasons why wartime always brings devastation and hardship on all sides, and some of the realities of the wars we fund, arm and participate in from a safe distance.