Urban art by Spanish artist Deih
Urban art by Spanish artist Deih
The costs of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan now stand at more than 350,000 lives lost and $4.4 trillion spent.
The updated figures are from the Costs of War project, which has updated its data periodically since its launch in June 2011.
The human toll includes US soldiers and contractors, allied soldiers, security forces, insurgents, militants, and civilians.
In addition, another 250,000 lives have been lost to war-related causes like loss of civilian access to food and health care since 2003.
Another $8 trillion in interest on war debt may come due during the next 40 years.
Costs incurred for the war in Iraq are estimated to be $2.21 trillion, and costs for Afghanistan and Pakistan are believed to be around $2.15 trillion.
The new figures come as Sunni militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—ISIS—have begun to take over parts of Iraq, leaving the political future of the country in question.
“The decision to use further US military force in Iraq will only increase these human and financial costs,” says Catherine Lutz, professor of anthropology and international studies and co-director of the Costs of War project at Brown University.
Source: Brown University
Slowly, the words emerge: “God has saved from weary strife, in its dawn this fresh young life.”
The gravestone belongs to a private in the British army’s Leicestershire Regiment, killed in France on Oct. 31, 1914 and named only as W. Walker. He was 28.
Walker was among 16 million soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in World War I.
Later this week, the world will mark 100 years since the assassination of an Austrian prince in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo dragged the great powers of the time into a conflict they called “the war to end all wars.”
Memories of WWI are fading — British sailor Claude Choules, who died in 2011 at age 110, is believed to have been the last surviving combat veteran.
But in cemeteries and memorial sites around the world, there’s no letup in the global operation to honor the fallen.
During a time of tight spending, the governments of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand,South Africa and India increased the budget of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission by almost 4 percent last year to $99 million.
That enables the CWGC to maintain graves and memorials to 1.7 million combatants from the former British Empire who died in the two world wars.
“We are here to help people understand what happened, what the sacrifice of those soldiers meant,” says Nelly Poignonnec, a Frenchwoman who serves as communications supervisor for the CWGC.
“We have a duty to commemorate them in perpetuity.”
The Brits aren’t alone.
Germany‘s War Graves Commission has a $55 million budget, raised mainly by public donations to maintain memorials to soldiers who fell in both world wars. For France, a special service of the Defense Ministry cares for 1.3 million war graves.
The US Battle Monument’s Commission employs 50 people overseas to tend the graves of 124,908 American war dead, including 30,000 from WWI. Nearly half lie in the Meuse-Argonne American cemetery, a 2.5 hour drive southeast of here.
Every year, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission engraves thousands of new headstones.
A handful will mark new graves for bodies that are still occasionally uncovered by farmers plowing their fields around here. The vast majority will replace stones eroded by decades of exposure to the elements.
Pvt. Walker’s is one of 22,000 to be cut this year in the workshop the CWGC runs in this northern French town set amid rolling farmland where some of the war’s bloodiest battles were fought.
Quarries in southern England producing the original Portland stone used for the graves in France and Flanders can no longer keep up with demand, so alternatives are shipped in to Beaurains from Italy, Bulgaria and farther afield.
After they are engraved — either using computer-guided machines or by hand by the commission’s team of trained craftsmen — the memorial tablets are sent out around the world.
Headstone production manager Alan Jarvis points to a stack of stones destined for shipment to the Gaza Strip, where more than 4,400 Commonwealth casualties are buried. The previous week, he says, a consignment was sent to Benghazi, Libya, last resting place for 1,214 British Commonwealth soldiers from WWII.
The CWGC employs 1,300 people tending 23,000 sites in 153 countries.
The scale of its operation to care for cemetery gardens and maintain the memorials gives an indication of the worldwide scope of the Great War’s carnage.
There are 15 members of Lincolnshire Yeomanry laid to rest in Algeria after their transport ship was torpedoed by a U-boat in 1915. Maala cemetery in Yemen contains the graves of 142 servicemen killed in WWI defending the city of Aden against the Turks.
However, it’s the vast graveyards of northern France and southern Belgium that reveal the industrial scale of the WWI’s slaughter, and its impact in shaping today’s world.
A short drive from Beaurains, a ridge of highland known as the Lorette Spur is topped with a stout white church surrounded by the graves of 45,000 French soldiers — the country’s largest military necropolis.
Down the hill in Neuville-Saint-Vaast stands a forest of gray crosses marking the tree-shaded resting place of 44,833 German soldiers. It’s especially poignant given Germany’s post-WWI history that 129 tablets engraved with the Star of David are mixed among the crosses.
Nearby Vimy Ridge was the site of an allied breakthrough in April 1917, when a force of mostly Canadian troops stormed German strongholds. Today, the ridge is a Canadian national shrine and place of pilgrimage for trans-Atlantic visitors.
“When you talk about Vimy Ridge, that was really where Canada became a nation,” says Fred Lowenberger, 69, a retired sports coach visiting from Saskatchewan.
A towering white monument inscribed with the names of 11,285 fallen Canadians whose bodies were never found now dominates the ridge. It features on Canada’s $20 bill.
“This is where we pulled together, where they finally got to fight as a unit, our four divisions. It’s part of Canada now, and it’s something I really had to see,” Lowenberger says.
WWI’s role in molding modern nationhood helps explain why it continues to exercise a fascination and emotional power unmatched by earlier conflicts.
Australian national identity was forged in the fire of the Gallipoli campaign against Turkey.Poland re-emerged as an independent country after WWI. States such as Finland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia grew out of the debris.
The war also triggered the Russian Revolution and saw the United States emerge as a world power. In Germany, humiliating defeat sowed the seeds of Nazism. The breakup of Turkey’s empire drew new borders across the Middle East.
Beyond the geopolitical legacy, the scale of the carnage meant more families were touched by that war than by any previous conflict. And the new technologies of photography and film ensured they had tangible images of the lost to pass down through the generations.
“There was hardly a family that wasn’t affected in some way, that did not have a casualty,” says Jarvis of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. “There’s a willingness among people for the commemoration to go on.”
As the centenary of the Western Front’s agony of trench warfare approaches, far from fading, the war’s presence is being kept alive by new museums and monuments sprouting on the battlefields.
The French authorities are building an international memorial to all war dead next to the graveyard at Notre-Dame de Lorette.
Schools from across Europe bring students to the region to witness the war’s heritage.
“I can’t imagine what happened here, the horror,” says 15-year-old Matilde from Orleans, visiting the Canadian memorial with her high school colleagues.
“Coming here is going to help me with my studies,” she says. “But I still can’t really explain how they could have done something like this. These guys were our age, it gives you a really strange feeling.”
A panel at the entrance to the German cemetery at Neuville-Saint-Vaast leads with a quotation from Franco-German Nobel Peace laureate Albert Schweitzer: “Soldiers’ graves are the greatest preachers of peace.”
With the current crisis in Ukraine reviving fears of a war in Europe, some see a growing need to disseminate the history of WWI for new generations to learn from the conflict.
“It’s never the ordinary people who make wars, no ordinary human wants that. It’s the leaders. That’s always been the same,” says Christian E. Schlegel, a veteran volunteer guardian at the Lorette memorial site. “We have to keep the memory alive, it is something that’s close to us because the suffering was so great, especially in this region.”
His thoughts are echoed back at the French headquarters of Commonwealth War Graves Commission, where a team of gardeners, stonemasons and gardeners toil to maintain the memorials to the millions of young men who died a century ago.
The way they tell it, it’s more than just a job.
“We are here to keep up the memory, to remember what those soldiers fought for,” says blacksmith Christian Cousin, a muscular 49-year-old hammering iron gate rails into shape over his forge.
“We are the artisans of remembrance.”
“The United States of America is not responsible for what happened in Libya, nor is it responsible for what is happening in Iraq today,” Secretary of State John Kerry declared at a Cairo news conference held in the midst of his recent crisis tour of the Middle East.
As Kerry spoke, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a growing Sunni insurgency were consolidating their grip over the north and west of Iraq, including the country’s borders with Syria and Jordan. Upwards of a million Iraqis had been displaced by the fighting, and thousands had been killed in the mounting sectarian slaughter.
Libya is in a state of complete collapse, with continuous fighting between rival militias, a government that exists in name only, oil production down by at least 80 percent, and over a million people forced to flee the country’s violence. Many thousands are incarcerated in a network of prisons run by armed groups that practice systematic torture.
Kerry’s statement merely made official the steady drumbeat from the political establishment and the media since the situation in Iraq turned into a complete debacle: “The US bears no responsibility.”
Typical was the commentary by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a “human rights” imperialist who was a vocal proponent of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. He wrote: “The debacle in Iraq isn’t President Obama’s fault. It’s not the Republicans’ fault… overwhelmingly, it’s the fault of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.”
Maliki, the stooge put in power and kept there by the US occupation, is made the fall guy.
Thomas Friedman, the Times’ foreign affairs columnist, wrote Sunday that Maliki is an “arsonist,” who, “the minute America left Iraq,” deliberately unleashed mayhem. This is the same Friedman who in 2003 declared that the US invaded Iraq “because we could,” spoke proudly of US troops going house-to-house and ordering Iraqis to “suck on this,” and declared that he had “no problem with a war for oil.”
Listening to the chorus of statements insisting that the US has no responsibility for the deepening tragedy inflicted upon the people of Iraq and Libya, one is reminded of nothing so much as the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, from Hermann Göring on down, rising one-by-one in the dock to declare themselves “not guilty.”
What are the crimes for which Kerry and so many others in the ruling establishment insist Washington bears no responsibility?
The description that they used for their own actions at the time was “shock and awe,” the unleashing of colossal destructive force upon a society already shattered by a decade of sadistic US sanctions. Killing hundreds of thousands of people and turning millions into refugees, the US war and occupation destroyed every institution of Iraqi society, while Washington deliberately fomented sectarian divisions as a means of overcoming Iraqi nationalism. The country’s deposed ruler, Saddam Hussein, was tried by a drumhead court and unceremoniously executed.
All of this was justified with warnings about the imminent threat from “weapons of mass destruction” and ties between Baghdad and Al Qaeda. As the whole world now knows, it was all lies.
There were no WMDs and there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq until US imperialism overthrew the country’s government and tore its social fabric to pieces. In fact, there was no Al Qaeda at all before Washington set about inciting a bloody war by right-wing Islamists in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
In Libya and now in Syria, the Obama administration abandoned the “war on terrorism” pretext for an equally cynical and fraudulent justification for regime-change: “human rights.” In Libya, the US and NATO heavily bombed the country while organizing and arming Islamist-led militias in a sectarian war that destroyed all of the existing governmental and social structures. As in Iraq, it ended its war with the brutal murder of the country’s secular leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
Washington is carrying out a similar war for regime-change in Syria, backing Sunni Islamist and sectarian militias that are led by ISIS, the same force that has overrun much of Iraq. The US hopes to end this war with the assassination of a third secular Arab head of state, Bashar al-Assad.
Just last week, Obama proposed to funnel $500 million in arms to the Syrian “rebels”—weapons that everyone knows will end up in the hands of ISIS, which the US is supposedly committed to defeating in Iraq.
As the contradictions and deceptions of Washington’s policy become ever more glaring, US officials simply act as though the American people won’t notice, or will believe anything. Or, for that matter, they won’t see that $500 million can be conjured up instantly to pay for a criminal war, while working people are being told “there is no money” for health care, education, housing or jobs.
The destruction that the US oligarchs have wrought in the Middle East, with all of its terrible human consequences, is the external manifestation of their destructive role within the US itself—smashing up the country’s manufacturing base, turning its economy into a gambling casino for financial parasites, destroying the jobs and living standards of millions of people. With no answers to the growing crisis at home, they turn to violence abroad, only compounding the catastrophes they have created overseas.
The “not responsibles” and “not guilties” from Kerry, Kristof, Friedman and the other advocates and apologists for American military aggression won’t wash. US imperialism is responsible for terrible crimes against humanity.
Yet no one has been held accountable. Not those in Washington—Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, et al.—who conspired to wage a war of aggression; not those in the current administration, from Obama on down, who conspired to shield their predecessors and continue the same predatory policies; not the military brass who carried out the war; not the private contractors who enriched themselves off of it; not the lying media that helped foist the war onto the American public; not the cowardly and conformist academics who justified and went along with it.
Together, they are responsible for the catastrophes that have been inflicted upon the peoples of Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Bill Van Auken
Street art in Berlin
GAY STREET ART