Part 2 – The Human Costs of War
“You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing!” – W T Sherman
What are the costs of war? Major General Smedley Butler’s answer to this question is, “This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries.”
The amount of deaths is just the start. For every death in war, there are hundreds or thousands of others who are mentally or physically injured. The term PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) had not yet been invented when Major General Butler was writing but, among other issues, it is clearly what he is referring to when he writes of “shattered minds.” He goes on to describe what this looks like, “These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically, they are in good shape; mentally, they are gone. “ This has not changed from the time that Butler was writing. Indeed, the mental toll of war may even have gotten worse due to the phenomena of combat isolation.
While the body count (on the US side) of recent conflicts has not been comparatively high, the price paid by those involved in the wars remains incredibly high. In addition to those who have suffered physical injury or death in the recent wars, there are many more whose lives were severely damaged by the trauma of war. A study of Vietnam says “that at the time of the study approximately 830,000 male and female Vietnam theater veterans (26%) had symptoms and related functional impairment associated with PTSD. “ However, this number may actually be much greater than that as ““In a reanalysis of the NVVRS data, along with analysis of the data from the Matsunaga Vietnam Veterans Project, Schnurr, Lunney, Sengupta, and Waelde (2003) found that, contrary to the initial analysis of the NVVRS data, a large majority of Vietnam veterans struggled with chronic PTSD symptoms, with four out of five reporting recent symptoms when interviewed 20-25 years after Vietnam. “ For more info, see Findings from the National Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Study
In 2011, a Pew survey found that 37% of post 9/11 veterans surveyed said that they suffered from PTS. The number goes up to 49% of those who saw combat. Pew – War and Sacrifice It is difficult to determine how many veterans suffer from PTSD, but whatever the actual number is, it is clear that warfare produces severe mental trauma. A direct result of this mental trauma can be seen in the increased suicide rate among veterans. A recent study by the VA found that “risk for suicide was 21% higher among Veterans when compared to U.S. civilian adults.” Suicide Prevention Fact Sheet This amounted to an average of 20 veteran suicides per day in the year 2014 for a total of 7,403 suicides. In comparison, a total of 4,491 United States service members were killed in action in the Iraq war between 2003-2017. (It should be noted that in contrast to this, the lowest estimate for Iraqi casualties from 2003-2006 is 151,000 deaths, it is likely that total Iraqi death toll will never be known for sure – in terms of casualties, these have been extremely one sided wars) While we have not seen a war on the same scale as the First World War, it is clear that the price of war has not changed since Major General Butler’s time. Whether it be death, injury, or mental trauma, soldiers pay a high price in war. In exchange for this, they receive very little compensation compared to the millions that the corporate warlords are making off these wars. With what it costs to buy a single Tomahawk cruise missile, the Army can pay the salary of 34 military police sergeants, including benefits, for an entire year. (Numbers based on Defense Budget 2017 and Army Benefits) As Butler puts it, “No one mentioned to them, as they marched away, that their going and their dying would mean huge war profits. No one told these American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their own brothers here.”
The human costs of war for the other countries, those that are being bombed or invaded, is much higher. In Part 1, I already mentioned the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Since writing that, it has only gotten worse. As of July 2017, 17 million people are insecure for food and 3.11 million have been displaced. There is essentially no access to healthcare and “ A child under the age of 5 dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes. “ More information on this crisis can be found at Yemen. The statistics are horrifying. According to another UN Report, “Since March 2015, OHCHR has recorded a total of 13,504 civilian casualties, including 4,971 killed and 8,533 injured. “ Yemen Casualties These are civilians, not combatants. Combatants at least make a conscious decision to risk their lives in war – these civilians did not choose this, they were simply collateral damage in a war that they have no part in. Many of these casualties were caused by armaments sold to Saudi Arabia by the United States. Others were caused directly by United States attacks.
In many ways the situation in Yemen mirrors that of Vietnam. Many atrocities were committed during the Viet Nam War. The most famous of these atrocities was the My Lai massacre in which over 300 unarmed civilians were slaughtered by US troops. There were many other such incidents which did not receive as much publicity. I recommend reading this BBC report on the atrocities in Vietnam – Was My Lai just one of many massacres in Vietnam War? Another, more vivid reminder of the atrocities committed during this war can be found in Nick Uti’s photographs of a napalm attack from 1972. Warning, graphical content: Nick UT In this instance, the United States did not carry out the napalm attack, but it goes to show how terrible war can be and in many other instances during the war, napalm was dropped by United States forces into civilian areas. The use of napalm against civilians was banned in 1980 by international law although the United States did not agree to this until 2009. In spite of this, the United States and allies continue to make use of white phosphorus, a chemical weapon similar to napalm. It appears that white phosphorus was just recently used in attacks on Raqqa and Mosul in Syria. Raqqa and Mosul phosphorus is manufactured by Monsanto which is also linked to the manufacture of Agent Orange, a chemical weapon used in Vietnam with devastating effects which are still felt today by the people of Vietnam. The other company involved in the manufacture of Agent Orange, Dow Chemical, also produced napalm for use in Vietnam. Both of these companies have seen enormous profits from the use of these incredible inhumane weapons in war. This is nothing new – every war is inhumane.
“The history of all forms of warfare is, however, essentially inhumane.” John Keegan, Introduction to “The Book of War”, Viking, New York, New York: 1999.
What we are seeing in many modern day conflicts is simply a repeat of what happened in Vietnam. Millions of civilians are being killed, injured, and displaced. The fate of these people is not a concern to the military industrial complex. Thousands have died crossing the Mediterranean in their attempt to flee the war zones but the corporations have made billions so they turn a blind eye to this suffering. Refugee Statistics
The only way to end all this suffering brought about by war is to end war. As Eisenhower said, “Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war – as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years – I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.” Our Documents