Saturday, October 6, 2012


I recently came across a very sad and powerful video about the impact of Agent Orange, a chemical which was heavily used by the US during the Vietnam War.  The video gave me fresh reason to doubt the truth of my long held hope that the US is the good guy in any fight.  It also led me to wonder if anyone now thinks that saving the people of Vietnam from the “scourge of Communism” was worth the price the Vietnamese people – and our own US veterans of Vietnam – are now paying for providing that rescue. If you think it was, watch  

During the Vietnam years, much was heard about the domino theory, the idea that if Vietnam became a communist state, all of the neighboring states would topple, like dominos.  60 years later, that concern seems ludicrous.  Since Vietnam we’ve moved on to other threats, including the topic of the day – an Iranian nuclear weapon -- which many in Washington find so terrifying they seem willing to start still another war to prevent Iran from succeeding.     

How serious do you think that threat will seem 60 years from now?  My guess is it will seem equally ludicrous, and that the world by that time will have moved on to new concerns. 

The US has been either at war or fighting someone, somewhere, during most of my lifetime.  We have been in Afghanistan for more than a decade, and are only now ending our long involvement in Iraq.  Of course, most of us don’t notice, for we no longer ask our citizens to fight our wars – we have volunteers – and we don’t bother to pay for them either.

While our leaders scrupulously avoid the subject, we all ought to pay attention, for the costs of these engagements are stupefying.  To date – as of September 30 – 6,579 US troops have died in these two wars, and 49,871 have been wounded. In total, somewhere between 225,000 and 250,000 people – most of them civilians -- have died, another 350,000 have been wounded and more than 7.8 million have been displaced. 

Causing all that damage has cost us enormous sums.  According to a recently completed study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, the wars have or will cost $4.4 Trillion, not counting $1 Trillion in interest costs on the money we’ve borrowed to pay the bills and excluding lots of other costs that are very difficult to measure.

Most people have no idea of how much a trillion dollars – a thousand billion – really is.  A trillion dollars laid end to end would reach the sun and if stacked one on another would make a pile 80 miles high.   If you spent a dollar a second, a trillion dollars would last you 32,000 years. And a trillion dollars will buy a lot of the things America needs as well. 

A trillion dollars would pay the salaries of every teacher in the country (about 2 million people) for roughly nine years. It’s enough to hire 2.5 million people at $15.00 an hour for the next 10 years (can you think of work for them to do?). It’s enough to write a check for $3,400 to 300 million people (almost everyone in the US).  It’s a gigantic number – and we’ve wasted more than five times that much while killing or wounding more than 50,000 American soldiers and accomplishing, so far as I can see, absolutely nothing.
I’m sick of war and the maiming and killing of our own and others’ kids.  And I’m sick of hearing that we cannot afford to repair our infrastructure, improve our educational system, pay for health care, continue government research and development and develop our energy resources to achieve independence – all the while dumping unthinkable sums in foreign wars that achieve nothing. 

All the carnage is a great waste.  World military spending now amounts to about $1.63 Trillion, about 2.6% of world GDP and approximately $263 for every person in the world.  The United States spends about 41% of that total – more than China, Russia, France, the UK and the next ten countries all combined.  

We all want to be safe.  But if we pulled in our horns, let other people and other countries choose their own way, and brought all our troops home, we could cut defense spending by 50% and maintain armed forces formidable enough to discourage anyone who might think about attacking us.     I think it’s time – and way past time – for us to do so.

Enough already.


  1. Well said...and again, thank you for being a person of prominence who is willing to admit to uncomfortable truths about this (great but imperfect) country of ours. I would highly recommend the book "Killing Hope" by Robert Blum. It goes into detail on the circumstances and motivations of all of the US military interventions since World War II. It is shocking and disgusting, but also well referenced and credible. If only they taught this kind of thing in classrooms.

  2. It will be interesting to see how this is addressed in the final Presidential debate tonight. Another good article, Thank You.

  3. You're amazing and spot-on. Sadly there is no accountability against the Budh administration for their debacle.

    Bob- keep fighting the good fight!