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The Costs of War

Posted Tuesday, November 17, 2009, at 10:24 AM

When Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts ran for President in 2004 a big part of his campaign had to do with the dollar costs incurred in fighting wars. Sen. Kerry emphasized a billion for bullets there meant no money for better roads here.

Every war leader soon learns it costs money to wage war. The financial instruments known as "bonds" were created to finance wars. Bonds made money available for waging real, first-class world wars.

Men who send other men to war issue sufficient bonds, but do not necessarily count costs. Perhaps if it were only money wars wouldn't be all that bad. It is obvious we can always find more money, even if we have to borrow it.

Unfortunately wars cost more than money.

The 1967 episode of Star Trek entitled "A Taste of Armageddon" tells of people in interminable war because they counted the costs of war naively.

In this episode, "Captain Kirk learns the war is fought by computer simulations instead of real weapons, and the people calculated as casualties voluntarily report to disintegration chambers to die, but the planets' culture and infrastructure survive."

It's only fiction of course, this story of people living in comfort with the horrors of war only sound and fury signifying nothing. It's just a fanciful tale of struggle, suffering, starvation affecting only someone else, somewhere out there. Only in fiction could insulation from distant death and destruction lead to apparently endless conflict.

As the story unfolds, "Kirk destroys the planet's war computers, breaking the treaty that set up the simulated war, which means that a real interplanetary war is imminent. Faced with real destruction of their cities after centuries of virtual war, the Eminians are forced to negotiate with the Vendikans for peace." Compelled to face realities of the costs of war, the costs were too high.

In real life, for better or worse, we do not (yet) fight wars via computers. We still fight wars with cost. And, it has been postulated a democracy cannot fight a real war much longer than seven years. By that time the costs of war, the real costs and not mere money, come home to be paid.

On Veteran's Day 2009, the costs of war came home to Terre Haute, Ind.

On that day, we buried Army Sergeant Dale Griffin, age 29, felled by an unknowable enemy in an unfathomable place called Afghanistan. He was not just one of a list of names released by the DOD for Sunday morning news. He was a "local boy" -- somebody with a name, and a home, and an identity. Somebody one of our kids might have gone to school with.

For one day, a parade became a procession. A day off for some became a day of significance for many. People who did not know the man in the casket cried as it passed. A city paused for an hour or so to remember veterans, something cities do not do on Veteran's Day quite as often as in times past when there were no computers or cell phones or iPods.

As bad as it is to lose a young man such as this, perhaps there would be fewer wars if every town in America knew such a man, experienced such a day. What would happen if more were compelled to count the costs of war?

David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at kayanddavid@verizon.com.


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Very well said. If the ones who started the wars had to send their sons and daughters into battle they may have made a different decision but we will never know that answer. There are many families like the Griffins who mourned the loss of a loved one this Veteran's Day. We can only hope the president can find a way to get our servicemen and women out of there soon. We have already lost too many good people-we cannot afford to lose more.

-- Posted by virginiagrace on Fri, Nov 20, 2009, at 4:14 AM


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