Perhaps the most pernicious sword which comes to hang over the head of the United States is the war debt. And not simply the debt of our most recent wars, but of most of the wars we have ever fought. Earlier this year it was reported (for those paying attention)
that America is still making payments on debts incurred during the Civil War
. Yes, America's Civil War, the one with the North versus South and Lincoln freeing the slaves. And every year, the United States continues to dispense tens of billions of dollars in payment of debt brought about by participation in the Spanish-American War
, in our turn-of-the-century seizure of the Panama Canal
, in World War I
and World War II
, in Korea
, in Grenada
and a return to Panama
, in Kosovo
and all across the Middle East
But the costs addressed in these investigative reports are only those relating to compensation of wounded veterans, and so constitute only a fraction of the whole story. War is expending millions of dollars on a single tube of steel and circuitry, and then dropping it into a cave to blow up on suspicion that a few enemy soldiers might be huddled therein. War is supplying thousands of soldiers with meals and water and gasoline and armaments so that they may sit in a neutral foreign country and feign a potential direction of attack, so as to keep an enemy guessing, if that enemy has the technology to be aware of their presence at all. War, as it turns out, is shipping over construction equipment and building sturdy and sizable structures in an occupied land, only to abandon those structures (and, possibly, some of the construction equipment) to the elements, or blowing them up completely, before heading home. More and more, war debt is hiring private contractors to provide security for diplomats and VIPs (even VIPs in the military) at many times the cost of having soldier's boots on the ground. And war debt is the cost of those boots, whether they come through the war injured or unscathed, whether they come out in a body bag or a suit. And war debt is borrowing and then paying high interest rates on that debt, for years, perhaps decades, before any of the capital underlying the debt is ever paid off.
Back in 2011, clever economists assembling to calculate the true total cost of war placed the combined total debt impact of just the recent military adventures in Afghanistan
, and Libya
at over six trillion dollars. That is, had those wars never been fought, America's debt would be six trillion dollars lower than it was by mid-2011 -- which is now years past. Since then, naturally, the cost has continued to mount, with boots staying on the ground in Afghanistan to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a month; and with tens of billions more dollars being paid out for these wars in veterans' benefits, in interest on the debt, and in aircraft carrier group positioning and readiness exercises for any need to go back into any place from which we've already to some degree extracted ourselves.
And perhaps the most outrageous thing about all of this is that since all of these wars are and have been paid with borrowed money promised on long-term bonds, we have not actually paid any
of the debt incurred in the past few decades yet. In fact, the United States has not yet even paid a penny of the debt for the first
Gulf War, back in 1991. Which, naturally, is not to suggest that the weapons-makers and the financiers of destruction haven't reaped immense profits off these adventures which they so fervently push us towards. No, they've gotten very, very wealthy, and all we have to show for it is a national debt now seven or eight or nine trillion dollars higher than it would have been had peace ruled the day, along with many wounded warriors in all stages of care, coffins in the ground, and blown up bits of bombs and tanks and guns strewn across the deserts we leave behind.