Out & About

The cost of war

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” In the 1970s, it was the slogan of the 87-year-old Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, started in 1916. And, politics aside, it begs the question of what economic opportunities and social programs would go if resources were instead put toward war. Our nation’s leaders are nowhere near agreeing on how much a war with Iraq would cost. The latest word from the Pentagon, which disagrees with the Army’s prediction, is $60 billion to $95 billion this fiscal year—including reconstruction. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says $9 billion a month—enough to buy 3.3 billion packages of Milano cookies.

• Deploying 100,000-plus troops would form the bulk of the expense, including their food and shelter. Leaving 5,000 troops in place for five to 10 years after the war would cost at least $1 billion a year—enough to buy about 300 million bags of Mother’s Cookie Parade.

• The Pentagon says it won’t have to spend as much money on munitions because it takes fewer of the new, precision weapons to do the job. A “smart” bomb has a $20,000 mechanism attached to its tail guiding it to its target. That would buy 15,503 boxes of Barnum Animal Crackers.

• The budget-watching group the National Priorities Project notes that $100 billion is: “three times what the federal government spends on K-12 education [and] enough to provide health care for all uninsured children in the U.S. for five years.” The organization figures California’s share, based on personal income taxes, as more than $10 billion—enough for about 9 billion Little Debbie cupcakes.

• By way of comparison, the Persian Gulf War in 1991 cost $61 billion ($80 billion in current dollars), and that was with Allies kicking in a share, according to the Department of Defense. Scholars funded by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences adjusted for inflation the numbers for earlier wars and came up with the following costs to the U.S.: $2.2 million for the Revolutionary War, $1.1 billion for the War of 1812, $62 billion for the Civil War, $9.6 billion for the Spanish-American War, $190.6 billion for World War I, $2,896 billion for World War II (130 percent of the gross domestic product) and $335.9 billion for the Korean War.

• The Pentagon in 1966 underestimated by 90 percent the $494 billion it would cost to fight in Vietnam.