The cost of war


Death and taxes the inevitable result

The War on Terror that began in Afghanistan following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, reaches a new milestone this week.

March 19, 2008, marks five years since the “shock and awe” campaign that launched the United States into war against Iraq took place — an anniversary that comes just two weeks after an additional 3,500 Indiana National Guard troops deployed for a nine-month tour of duty.

In the 1,825 days since the war in Iraq began, the U.S. government has spent more than $550 billion in Iraq, where nearly 4,000 American servicemen and women have lost their lives, and approximately 90,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed.

In Afghanistan, another 500 American soldiers have been killed, and last Friday, Staff Sgt. Collin Bowen became the most recent Indiana native to die in the War on Terror.

A Purple Heart recipient, Bowen was injured in the eastern province of Khost, near Pakistan, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Bowen was the third victim of the attack that immediately killed two National Guardsmen and an Afghani interpreter.

The attack that killed Bowen occurred just two weeks before he was scheduled to return home. He leaves behind his wife Ursula and their three young daughters, as well as other family members, including close relatives in Hamilton County. Bowen was hospitalized at the Brook Army Medical Center for his injuries from the explosion when he died on Friday, March 14.

While the deaths of Americans continue as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems those deaths have little relevance for most of the U.S. population. A recent Pew Foundation poll showed that less than 30 percent of Americans are aware of the fact that American casualties in Iraq are nearly 4,000 and have surpassed the number of Americans who died on Sept. 11; and only 6 percent say they are following news of the war regularly.

In contrast, the same poll, conducted in February of this year, found twice that number of Americans, 12 percent, said they were following the news of the death of actor Heath Ledger.

Death and (property) taxes

Here in Indiana, the news in our state has been dominated by the property tax “crisis” since last summer. Residents have protested property taxes in great numbers and with great success — on its last day of this year’s session, the same day Bowen died, the Indiana General Assembly voted to reduce property taxes and place a permanent cap on future assessments.

Prior to these tax cuts, Indiana collected nearly $8 billion each year in property taxes. With more than $500 million being eliminated from state funds as a result of the property tax cuts, residents will see a 1 percent increase in sales taxes, as well as a hold on school construction and improvement projects. With more than 50 percent of property taxes in Marion County going to public schools, most school districts will be required to cut personnel and programs immediately.

Indiana residents should also expect other cuts in public services within the next year. When President Bush submitted his federal budget for 2009, it included an additional $139 billion for the war in Iraq, bringing the total cost of the war to nearly $700 billion. In order to pay for the increased military spending next year, Bush has cut funding for more than 100 federal programs.

In Indiana, these funding decreases include $17.8 million in cuts for Community Block Grants for 44 communities, $11.2 million in cuts for Social Services Block Grants, $8.3 million in cuts for Low-Income Home Energy Assistance and $4.8 million in cuts for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers.

The total of these cuts, $42.1 million, is equal to the amount Indiana taxpayers will spend on the war in Iraq in 63 minutes.

Early estimates …wrong

Spending in Iraq has greatly exceeded the expense predictions prior to the war. While no actual budget was ever released, White House financial advisor Larry Lindsey told the Wall Street Journal in September of 2002 he estimated an “upper bound” estimate of between $100 and $200 million in total war costs — less than what we are currently spending per day in Iraq.

At the time, then director of the White House budget office, and current Indiana governor, Mitch Daniels called Lindsey’s estimate “very, very high.”

In January 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld estimated the cost at “something under $50 million.”

Comprehensive estimates of the cost of war now consistently place the total at about $3 trillion, 1 trillion less than the controversial figure Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2001 Nobel Prize winner in economics, predicted more than two years ago. While Stiglitz is a former advisor to President Clinton, and a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq, mainstream media outlets and conservative analysts are now surpassing his estimate.

This number accounts for the care of wounded soldiers, benefits paid to surviving spouses and children and other long-term costs the federal government has not yet included in its estimates for total war costs, primarily because there is no end date to the war.

The taxpayer cost for the Iraq war thus far has averaged more than $220 million per day. For the same amount of money, more than 17,000 American students could attend a public college for one year tuition-free; nearly 400,000 uninsured children in America could receive insurance coverage for a year; every baby born in the U.S. in the last year could be immunized against measles, mumps and rubella more than 14 times; and more than 1,000 new border patrol agents could be hired.

Here in Indiana, the war in Iraq has cost Hoosier taxpayers approximately $8 billion. For the same amount of money, Indiana taxpayers could have provided 7,561,652 homes with renewable energy; or 3,767,447 uninsured children with health care; or 1,066,465 college scholarships; or 196,198 additional police and fire personnel; or 139,362 elementary school teachers; or 723 new elementary schools.

Ironically, $8 billion could have also provided 365 days with no property taxes in Indiana.

By the numbers

$3 trillion - Estimated cost of war through 2013

$550 billion - Cost of war to date

$301 million - Cost of war per day

90,000 - Number of Iraqi civilians killed as of March 17, 2008 (conservative estimate)

3,993 - Number of American troops killed in Iraq as of March 17, 2008

$8 billion - Indiana taxpayer dollars spent on was in Iraq to date

$44 million - Indiana taxpayer dollars spent on war in Iraq per day

For more information on the cost of war, go to

What: Gathering to mark the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq

When: Wednesday, March 19, 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Where: 10 W. Market St.

Who: Sponsored by

What: Rally for Peace

When: Saturday, March 29, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Where: Monument Circle

Who: Organized by various student groups and the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center

View a complete list of Hoosier lives lost

For a complete list of American lives lost, go to Faces of The Fallen or Fallen Heroes Memorial


Recommended for you