Tuesday, May 08, 2007

War is Heck on the Homefront

It's the first war that's included a tax cut.

One of the first thing troops notice when they come home from Iraq and Afghanistan is how detached the homefront is. Few families contribute most of the fighting men and women. Do the rest of us really know a war is going on?

Not by past measuring sticks. In other wars, the homefront had it's share of hardships: rationing, higher prices, tax hikes to pay for the war.

But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are about to come in as the second most expensive war in US history -- right behind World War II. Thing is, the economy is bigger, so the amount of total wealth we're spending on war isn't noticeable to a noticeable number of Americans. It's only a little over 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) -- less than half the share of Vietnam's cost.

The Washington Post added up the costs of past wars, adjusted to 2007 dollars:

  • WW II: $3.2 trillion, 37.8% of GDP

  • Iraq/Afghanistan: $754 billion, 4.2% of GDP

  • Korea: $691 billion, 14.2% of GDP

  • Vietnam: $650 billion, 9.4% of GDP

  • WW I: $364 billion

  • Civil War: $81 billion

  • Spanish-American War: $7 billion

  • American Revolution: $4 billion

  • Mexican War: $2 billion

  • War of 1812: $1 billion
The problem you run into with relatively little hardship on the homefront is there's relatively little pressure from the people to push for an end to the war. Pressure in past wars forced politicians into timelines and benchmarks, to win a war -- or really accomplish a mission -- before the people got fed up.

Ultimately, politicians are more interested in winning re-election than winning any war.

Since the Civil War, the US military has operated on the idea of speedy victories. Without the pressure for that on politicians -- the politicians are willing to take the wind out of the military's sails and let a war linger.

The longer that goes on, the more resistance can build up in places like Vietnam and Iraq, and the harder it becomes to end with a win. (WaPo)

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