My Turn: What is the true cost of war?

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2005

Throughout history, wars have had a lasting impact on our world. The outcomes of these wars have brought about political, economic and social change. Some has been good, like the abolishment of slavery after the Civil War; some not so good, like the cynicism and mistrust that clouded America following the Vietnam War.

One thing the past has taught us about war is that it has real consequences for real people. It is important for all involved to have a clear reason and understanding of the conflict to be sure it is absolutely necessary to go to battle. ... If a war's full costs were to be considered, it would not gain nearly as much support. ...

Financially, the Iraq War has cost our country more than $170 billion. What worthwhile things could we have spent $170 billion on? World hunger, schools, libraries, shelters for the homeless, churches, and scholarships so everyone has access to a higher education? Or maybe we could have used it to help those already affected by a war like the 23 percent of U.S. homeless who are veterans. These are people who have served their country and now live on the streets. Could it be possible that of the hundreds of thousands of men and women currently serving in Iraq, the majority will come back without a quality support system?

Veterans are obviously affected by war. The trauma of war - killing, pain, injury, disability - often reaches soldiers first. Veterans are prone to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and may develop a number of symptoms, including sleep problems, mood swings, short-term memory loss, chronic fatigue, rashes, aching joints, headaches, abdominal pain, sensitivity to bright light and blurred vision. Alcohol and drug abuse, as well as violent behavioral tendencies, also affect veterans at much higher rates than others. ...

It is hard to measure the negative psychological impact of war on soldiers. However, it is known that, since March 2003, at least a thousand deployed service men and women have been evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan for psychiatric reasons and at least twenty-five have committed suicide. Another disturbing statistic: one in five veterans of the Korean War continues to be adversely affected by their combat experiences. I think the distress of killing and watching people be killed is underestimated. Some soldiers never get over the guilt of taking another's life, and since the government all too often refuses to take responsibility for emotional damage, many of these individuals do not get the help they need.

The injustice of war is that it is especially brutal for civilians not even involved in the fighting. These people's lives are completely disrupted. Their homes are bombed and they regularly cannot go to work or school because it is unsafe. Crime rates rise as a result of the confusion and chaos. Previously controlled diseases like tuberculosis reappear and health officials are unable to respond. In Iraq there have been approximately 23,000 civilian deaths so far. ... These are not faceless people; they are mothers and fathers, grandpas and grandmas, teenagers, and little children who will suffer for the choices of our nation's leaders. ...

Our future and our government are being degraded by the war. It has weakened the Constitution because our president used troops against countries that have not directly threatened us. In his inaugural speech, President Bush spoke of "confronting problems instead of passing them on to future generations." But if violence breeds violence then it is likely that of the one billion Muslims, some will get angry and resentful, increasing our risk of terrorism even more. Instead of being seen as a strong peacekeeper, America is earning a reputation of a pig-headed bully. Forcing our beliefs on others is not democratic. We have lost valuable alliances and destroyed decades of diplomacy. If we want to rebuild peace in our world, we must educate people on the true costs of war.

• This essay won a 2005 Veterans For Peace scholarship. Tabitha C. Williams is a senior at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School. A Douglas resident, she is attending the University of Alaska Anchorage this fall and plans to major in political science.

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