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The True Cost of War: A Moral Balance Sheet

One Day in Iraq

To date, more than 3,100 American military members have been killed in Iraq, and another four hundred have been killed in Afghanistan. On average, another college-aged soldier (between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two) is killed every day.

The money the U.S. spends on average in just one day in Iraq, $259 million, could have provided 22,615 college-aged students with a full year's tuition or enrolled 35,500 three and four-year-olds a full year in Head Start pre-school programs.

One Week in Iraq

The toll of the war on Iraqi civilians has been devastating. Estimates of the number of Iraqi dead range up to half a million.

As many as 3.8 million Iraqis have already fled their homes, and an additional 10,500 civilians become refugees on average every week.

The money spent in one week in Iraq could have provided three meals a day for nearly an entire year for six million children, the same number that dies from hunger and malnutrition every year.

One Month in Iraq

In addition to the tens of thousands of injuries American service members have sustained in fighting in Iraq, more than five hundred have undergone "major amputations"—the loss of arms or legs. In the four years of fighting in Iraq, that totals ten servicemen and women losing a limb every month (or one every three days).

For less than the amount spent in one month in Iraq, New Orleans' neighborhoods could be completely rebuilt and improved to meet standards that would better protect them against another hurricane.

One Year in Iraq

More than 34,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in Iraq in 2006 alone. That is equivalent to ninety-three civilians killed every day.

The money spent in Iraq in one year could have paid the health insurance premiums for half of all uninsured Americans, including all uninsured American children.

Four years in Iraq

More than 3,100 American service members have been killed since the invasion, and more than 23,500 soldiers have been wounded. As many as 300,000 veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, two-thirds of whom are not being treated.

What could we have purchased with $400 billion, had our national priorities matched our moral potential?

We could have funded full American compliance in the Kyoto Protocol, which is estimated to cost $75 billion less than what we've already spent in Iraq.

We could have purchased life-giving treatment, including costly antiretroviral drugs, for every person in the world infected with HIV/AIDS. For almost six full years.

The Years Ahead

Even if it ends tomorrow, we will be paying for this war for decades to come. When we factor in the future costs of veterans' medical care, disability payments, and the price of rebuilding our depleted military, the total cost could exceed $1.2 trillion.

Imagine what our world might look like in a few years if we had focused those resources on making the world healthier, wealthier, better educated, and safer.

As Americans, it is our duty to hold ourselves and our government accountable for any decision to spend American lives and money on a futile war. These are moral choices, and they have moral consequences.

© Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), 2007. References and source material are available upon request. This document maybe be reproduced in its entirety and freely distributed. When material is excerpted we ask only that it be attributed to the UUA.

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Last updated on Friday, May 3, 2013.

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