Friday, February 3, 2012

The Cost of War

Economists like myself are often in the business of talking about the cost of things. Sometimes this is straight forward, but the more we try to accurately describe our ledger's balance, the more we are confronted with quandaries. This is what is on my mind while reading the New York Times' latest report on the experiences of returning veterans.
Every severe injury is disfiguring in its own way, but there is something uniquely devastating about having one’s face burned beyond recognition. Many burn victims do not just gain lifelong scars, they also lose noses and ears, fingers and hands.
Calculating the cost of wars in enormous. Brown Universtiy's Watson Institute has been attempting to give a final price tag for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The researchers on the project are doing some heroic work, to the extent that cost calculating can be heroic. However, I'm unsure how one can put a dollar value on this:
“The burns on a soldier’s face are huge: It’s your military uniform and you can’t take it off,” [Specialist Joey Paulk] said. “The surgery changed so much on my face that it completely changed my whole outlook on life.”
With this in mind, I'd like to bring the reader back to 2002, during the run-up to the Iraq War. I was, and continue to be, extremely angry at the glib disregard the war's advocates seemed to have not only the human cost of war itself, but the fact that there would be thousands of Americans and Iraqis, soldiers and civilians, who would end up wearing a uniform of permanent physical and emotional disfigurement.

And for what? A poll bounce and a flight suit photo op?

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