When we think of the phrase “the costs of war,” the first things that often spring to mind are the human costs. We think of lives lost, of homes and cities destroyed and perhaps of entire populations turned into refugees in their own countries. There is trauma among populations as well, and that is a high but difficult cost to measure. For the United States, there are numerous costs at home even though wars are waged elsewhere. The cost is great to soldiers themselves and their families even if they return home without physical injuries; there are costs to employers as well who lose valuable employees to long deployments.
We might think next of the cost of war in terms of a dollar sign. It used to be said that war was good business; the conventional wisdom is that World War II was important in bringing the United States out of the Depression. Today, however, wars cost in both the human and economic sense. The costs of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the United States have been estimated at nearly $2 trillion with a possibility of it going as high as to $6 trillion over the next few decades. What are some of those costs?
They include appropriations from Congress for the war itself, increases in foreign aid spending as the United States works to rebuild the regions destroyed by war, and increased spending on Homeland Security. Often, what is not included in these estimations is the loss of infrastructure in the United States and the high price of interest rates. Recent wars have been paid for by borrowing funds, and these funds must be paid back. Given these costs, the country will still be paying for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for at least another generation to come.
However, the source of the largest cost of all may surprise many people. That cost is health care for returned veterans. This is the price that reaches far into the future because veterans must be cared for throughout a lifetime. How is so much of the budget for war going toward medical expenses? How do those costs break down?