Count the dead.
That’s what most people do when it comes time to assess the cost of war. They tally up the flag-draped caskets that come home, filled with the bodies of young men and women who were asked to become the tip of our nation’s foreign policy spear.
Then we count up casualties, the hundreds of thousands of those same men and women who have been wounded, injured, maimed — harmed in ways often unimaginable for a civilian population.
And speaking of civilians, if we want to be accurate and inclusive, we must include the deaths and injuries of innocent bystanders, the people who live in the far-away places that we’re trying to protect or liberate or whatever the mission says we’re trying to do.
In the case of the nation’s longest war, the one in Iraq — and the continuing conflict in Afghanistan — there are some quantifiable numbers. And some of those numbers are monetary.
According to the Washington Post, since the nation went to war in Iraq in 2001, it has spent $4 trillion to $6 trillion taxpayer dollars if you count both Iraq and Afghanistan.
There have been 4,491 service members killed in Iraq alone; another 2,326 killed in Afghanistan. Those numbers are accurate as of Oct. 1, 2015, the Post article said. Civilian deaths and injuries are much more difficult to quantify.
Some agencies say as many as 500,000 to perhaps more than a million Iraqis have been killed or wounded. The numbers in Afghanistan are lower but also hard to determine, and we’re not even mentioning the on-going civil war in Syria and violence in Africa.
But here’s the thing:
Agencies and governments can count up all the dead and wounded, they may estimate the number of civilians caught in the bombings or cross-fire of battles, but they can’t capture the total cost of war.
It’s unfathomable for most people. And the cost for each soldier who survives isn’t something that can be measured accurately. Yet it is a major cost just the same.
All of us know some one who survived the horrors of World War II and who, after all these decades, are still reluctant to talk about what they saw and experienced.
The same is true for the veterans of Vietnam and for those coming home from today’s wars. There is a cost to them and their families, a cost in emotional stability, in memories that one would prefer to forget, in doubts and confusion and loss of friends and comrades in arms.
This community has seen this cost time and time again, as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has taken its toll on veterans and their families alike. A 2012 study by the U.S. Veterans Administration said that each day 22 veterans commit suicide. Sometimes, as we know all too well, those taking their own lives take the lives of others, too.
That’s the cost that can’t be measured. That’s one more reason why, as Pope Francis has said time and time again, we must all become the face of Jesus on earth — we must all follow and lead others to the Prince of Peace.
In addition to his repeated calls for peace, the pope has also asked the world to eliminate the threat nuclear weapons still bring to the world. He asks us to talk to each other, to walk in each other’s shoes before picking up our weapons or blocking off our borders.
Pope Francis knows the cost of war can’t be calculated by adding columns of fatalities or casualties or destroyed cities alone. The cost of war is incalculable.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, one day, we could spend time writing about the cost of peace?
Record Editor Emeritus