6.4 The Real Monetary Cost of War

by peter © (last updated jan. 2018)
I wrote this article in honour and memory of the The White Rose Campaign for Human Rights).

6.4.1 Introduction

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
~ D. Eisenhower [99], former U.S. president
Since 1948 the United States has spent just under $10 trillion USD directly on its military. That’s $19,000,000,000,000. Or an average of $283 billion ($283,582,090,000) per year. However spending has not stayed constant - since the turn of the 21stcentury for example, U.S. spending on its military has according to its budget releases, risen to roughly $800 billion ($800,,000,000,000) per year [103, 104, 105].
That is to say, the United States spends more than $1,000,000 on its military each and every minute of every day. And has done so for more than two decades. (Update: This value is now known to be higher, but despite freedom of information requests [123] the U.S. government under Donald Trump now refuses to release the data necessary to determine how much higher.)
In this calculation please note that I am not including so-called “black budgets” and other hidden avenues such as spending on university research programs which had direction military application (AI at MIT for example), because it is very difficult to get information on such budgets - freedom of information requests for same are either not answered, or outright refused [104]. Nor am I including the cost of cleanup after the cruise missile attack on the U.S. Pentagon in 2001 wherein the only damage was the destruction of all records - and the auditors investigating said records - of more than $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000) in missing monies [111, 112, 113]. The missing money was even admitted to by then U.S. Offence Defence Secretary D. Rumsfeld [112]. Sigh.
However this does not take into account the careful analysis of actual spending by the U.S. military by Noble Laureate economist Joseph Stieglitz and other experts in the area. Their analysis presented in a book ’The Three Trillion Dollar War’ [116] and discussed before the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace presents a more accurate costing than the U.S. military and government present [115]. The Iraq Holocaust alone for example, wherein the U.S. and its subject nations (Britain, Australia, etc.) in addition to massive wholesale slaughter and maiming for life of millions of civilians - Under-counting the dead - how governments lie about those they kill - cost $3,000,000,000,000 taxpayer dollars. This amount as I point out elsewhere on my site [ibid] is sufficient to have provided peace and security for the entire region.
In addition this figure does not take into account the latest data [124] on cost of a single soldier per year - which at time of writing is between $850,000 and $1.4M for each soldier. The Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in the U.S. for 2012 estimate that the cost was closer to a $1,400,000 average per soldier [125]. This of course is not what a solder is paid - an army sergeant with four years membership in the army is paid an average (2012 data) of $30,000 USD per annum [126]. Update: Latest data shows [127] that this $1.4M cost per soldier has risen, but as yet the complete data set necessary to confirm the amount of increase is not available (restrictions on access to information under the execrable regime of U.S. president Donald Trump have increased significantly).
As I show below, no other nation on the planet even comes close to this level of spending on military and war, nor ever has. None the less the regime of U.S. president Donald Trump [116]  [116] Allegedly under control of a person with severe mental illness. Please see here for citations: regarding this statement dramatically increased this obscene level of spending by $54 billion USD [122] whilst slashing while cutting foreign aid, the State Department, etc. by the same amount.
Overall U.S. military spending was more than the cumulative fiscal value of all human wealth in the United States. In other words, the United States spends more on its military than on the value of all factories, roads, bridges, water systems, sewage systems, airports, railways, power plants, office buildings, shopping centres, schools, hospitals and medical system, schools, and so on ... combined [109]. And spends virtually nothing by comparison, on preventing war. As a terrorist state (please see The World Wide U.S. War of Terror) for proof of this statement), the U.S. economy has for decades been dedicated to war, death, slaughter, and destruction (please also see The Hubris of Empire: Is the United States the world’s greatest threat to peace? ).
The result for the U.S. citizenry is appalling:
The U.S. has the highest rate of child poverty and child death of any OECD or developed nation [16, 17, 18, 19], the highest murder rate of any OECD country [ibid, 20], the worst medical care system of any OECD country (except for the wealthy) [21, 22, 23], the highest incarceration rate of any country on the planet [24], the average life span of its citizens is decreasing faster than any OECD country [25], the highest rate of gun crimes of any OECD country [26], the highest rate of per capita pollution of any country in the world save China [27], the largest and fastest growing disparity between rich and poor of any OECD country [28], the highest rates of mental illness of any developed country [29, 30], and so on....
But it does have the world’s largest military. So the fact that this means children must die of poverty and starvation right beside military bases situated in the United States itself (let alone in nations it invades), is obviously irrelevant collateral damage.
If compassion and gentleness ruled rather than warmongering, the full amount of the resources dedicated to war could, and would, alleviate all of this suffering. If it was applied to alleviating the suffering of those attacked instead of calling them evil, this would could be a social paradise. But sanity and gentleness has never been a strong point with politicians and the corporations they serve:
“I was a racketeer for capitalism”
~ Major General S. Butler [1], the most highly decorated U.S. marine in history
“The war machine is killing this country!”
~ L. Bolger [31], V.P. U.S. Veterans for Peace.

6.4.2 Why?

War is a very lucrative business for those few oligarchs who control government. It is the highest profit making industry next to the drug trade [117].
Huge profits are made: arms dealing Should Arms Dealing be a War Crime?), acquisition of resources How to Support Despots), and the like place billions upon billions of dollars into the hands of a few Malevolent capitalism, beat down economics, poverty, and the obscenity of oligarchical ruls ).
If millions upon millions of people die Under-counting the dead - how governments lie about those they kill in the process, well, such collateral damage is unfortunate. So-called “full spectrum military dominance" is hugely profitable for a handful of corporations and their executives.
Similarly, if debt load on the taxpayer increases... so what? Those who head the corporations of war are certainly not effected. The U.S. Budget Control Act raised the debt ceiling far beyond what U.S. taxpayers were capable of funding [6]. At the time the U.S. was $60,000,000,000,000 in debt ibid, 7], although that number has since grown - dramatically [8, 104].
Much of this debt has been due to the perpetual war economy of that country - i.e. essentially unlimited military spending. The Budget Control Act required billions of dollars in cuts to military spending as a way to get out of this morass. Needless to say, none of the cuts to military spending mandated by the Act have occurred [10]. Rather military spending has continued to increase as that country continues to war with well, everyone The Hubris of Empire: Is the United States the world’s greatest threat to peace? .
General Pace, of the Marine Corps has said that it is inappropriate to look at defence “from a dollar-and-cents perspective” [13]. Admiral E.P. Giambastiani, Jr., has said that cutting military spending is like “performing brain surgery with a chainsaw” [14]. General R. B. Myers stated that “the world is a more dangerous and uncertain place today than it has been for decades” [15], and so cuts to military spending must not happen.
“The military-industrial complex, such as it is, does not produce the propensity or predisposition for war or even hawkish policies short of conflict, as much as war or hawkish policies (driven primarily by political decisions) produce an opening for the military-industrial coalition to take advantage of the biases built into the system that favour, over the long run, hawkish policies.”
~ D. Wirls 11], “Irrational Security: The Politics of Defence from Reagan to Obama”
“[Private contractors] constitute an overreaching military-industrial complex at least equal to the one Eisenhower warned against [creating] problems that cannot simply be resolved with more rational budgets.”
~ J. Ledbetter [12], “Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex”
The permanent war The Hubris of Empire: Is the United States the world’s greatest threat to peace? economy and the current U.S. War of Terror The World Wide U.S. War of Terror) are tremendously lucrative. Even a cursor glance at the profits of some of the major U.S. political campaign “contributors” (called bribes in other nations) show this Should Arms Dealing be a War Crime?). War by industrialised nations in the 21stcentury is never about responding to a threat. It is entirely about seizing resources from those who own them, garnering war profits for CEOs of a number of corporations, and above all about power Psychopaths in power).

6.4.3 Social failure

As I show here The Hubris of Empire: Is the United States the world’s greatest threat to peace? the U.S. has gone to war with essentially every country on earth. Usulally on trumped up reasons to steal another nation’s resources or increasingly, simply to satisfy the war lust of the oligarchs and their pet politicians:
“Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot... It’s fun to shoot some people."
~ Lt. General James Mattis [118], a three star Marine general and commander of US Marine expeditions, later appointed top Marine General at U.S. Central Command
“War is the greatest of all experiences."
~ Adolf Hitler [119], leader of the Nazi party, war criminal and psychopath
“The Commander in Chief and those under him authorised a systematic regime of torture”.
~ U.S. Maj.-General Antonio Taguba [120] referring to a U.S. president’s ordering of war crimes
"We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force."
~ United States General Stanley McChrystal [121]
"I never did anything, great or small, without obtaining in advance of express instructions from ... my superiors."
~ Adolph Eichmann [122], Nazi war criminal
"The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."
~ Nuremberg Principle IV [123], in the trial of war criminals
"You’re either with us or against us"
~ U.S. president Bush [124].
“I... reserve the right to act unilaterally ... against anyone”
~ U.S. president Obama [125].
’I am driven with a mission from God’. God would tell me, ’... go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan. And I did. And then God would tell me ’... go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did... I feel God’s words coming to me"
~ U.S. president G. W. Bush [126], corroborated by the BBC (see Religious Fanaticism is a means of controlling the rabble )
“I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator... I am doing the Lord’s work”
~ Adolph Hitler [127], Mein Kamf
The U.S. currently has military (either directly, through mercenaries, drones, special forces, or proxy colonial forces) deployed in almost all of the planet’s countries [ibid]. The majority of the economy of this one country is based upon perpetual, expanding, war.
Take a look at the graph at below, and the numbers below. In looking at these, please keep in mind that history has always shown that a policy of resorting to force has always been a product of utter political and social failure... not to mention an indifference to brutality Are U.S. Run Torture Sites Crimes Against Humanity?).
“The citizens of the United States have essentially forfeited any capacity to ask first-order questions about the fundamentals of national security policy.”
~ A.J. Bacevich [34], “The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War.”
(an image: pls click to see it)

6.4.4 Actual spending

  • The United States and its allies account for roughly 83% of the entire world’s total military expenditures.
    • (Update 1 - the figure is now at 85%. [35])
    • (Update 2 - the figure is now at 87%. [36])
    • (Update 3 - the US, with 4.54% of the world’s population, now invests more on war and war preparations than every other country in the world combined [37, 38, 39, 104, 105])
    • (Update 4 - the U.S. now spends more than $1,000,000 per minute on its military. New executive signing orders by U.S. president Obama have however, made it more difficult to access similar figures in the future [110].)
  • The U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan alone have cost taxpayers in excess of $2 trillion at time of writing [40], and are projected to exceed $4.4 trillion within two more years [41]. (Update - now more than $5 trillion [105]). Nobel Prize winning economist J Stieglitz and professor L. Bilmes at Harvard University have put the base cost of the Iraq War at over $3 trillion [42], but they point out that the lost opportunity costs of the resources spent on this unproductive war make this figure vastly more.
  • For example, a very large surge in the price of oil due to the U.S. invasion of Iraq helped destroy much of the U.S. economy, with many results, such as place the U.S. in first place in terms of child poverty and child death in the industrialised world [Op. cit.]. (Please see the Stieglitz and Bilmes breakdown [ibid]for details.)
  • Up to 64% (depending on source) of its total GNP is funnelled in to its military operations [44] at time of writing. Update: Whistleblower released documents [106, 107] indicate this number is much higher. How high is impossible to tell due to the U.S. having classified all ’off-book’ (black budgets, intelligence, etc.) spending. Creditable estimates [108] however indicate more than 75% of GDP goes in one form or another toward funding the U.S. military. Recall too the conclusions of The Three Trillion Dollar War cited previously [Op. cit.].
  • These percentages has been steadily climbing since the second world war, particularly in the last decade.
  • Not Included in these percentages are military contracts to private corporations below, and vast arms trade in which the U.S. engages Should Arms Dealing be a War Crime?)
  • U.S. spending on its Middle East wars is per annum more than all of its states combined put into health, education, welfare, and safety for their citizens [42]
  • U.S. military spending at time of writing is roughly $50,000,000 per hour [45]. Upate: Now at more than $1,000,000 per minute and rapidly climbing [103, 104, 105]. If we add the current Pentagon budget, nuclear weapons budget, NASA’s military budget, foreign military aid budget, veteran’s benefits budget, interest on debt for past wars, regime change budgets, and several other military related budgets [117]  [117] And air conditioning - the U.S. military spent $20,200,000,000 per year on air conditioning during its invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan [46]. $504,816 also went to a single U.S. corporation for a supply of Viagra pills [101 (a male sexual enhancement drug) to the U.S. military. The billing came under the title “troop support”. from DARPA research through to the X-37B, SR-71 and similar space weaponry budgets... the United States spends in excess of a million dollars a minute on war [47]. Good for them(an image: pls click to see it)
    • 1 in 7 of U.S. citizens lives in poverty [16, 17, 19]
    • 1 in 6 U.S. children lives in poverty - the highest rate of child poverty of any industrialised nation in the world [ibid, 18]
    • the U.S. population has the lowest Your Educational System is designed to foster illiteracy) literacy rate Your Educational System is designed to foster illiteracy) of any industrialised nation with a crumbling educational infrastructure
    • Malaria could be completely eliminated from the world for the cost of a mere few hours worth of this expense [50, 51]
    • Every person in Africa effected by AIDS could have pain medication, life extending drugs, and clean clothing for just a few more hours of military spending indulgence [50, 52]
    • There would be no more poverty in North America.
    • Every child on the planet could have sufficient education to be able to read [ibid]
    • Every person in the world could have free fresh clean water in perpetuity
    • According the the United Nations, one month’s worth of U.S. military spending would completely eradicate the current mass starvation in many countries
U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shortly before the end of his tenure in that post under the Bush administration, stated in an interview [102] that in addition to the obscene amount of taxpayer monies publicly spent on the U.S. military, an additional $2.3 trillion was being spent on so-called black budgets. That is to say, upon military budgets with no public oversight whatsoever. What a charming person.
Finally, a point never made in costing war - especially by the U.S. rulers - is the human cost to veterans. Lost limbs, widespread and often lifelong PTSD trauma, and the like. Providing meaningful care to veterans - on both sides of any war - is rare. This aftercost of war is in fact the major reason why the U.S. uses (and abuses) so many mercenaries [Op. cit.] throughout the world.

6.4.5 Priorities

Over £647,147,795 (roughly $1.2 trillion USD) of taxpayer monies has recently been spent by the United States on internal (within the continental U.S.) security initiatives and propping up the security state they have created, each and every year [53, 54].
This has made the anti-terrorism industry is one of the largest industries in the world, and it is an industry that is growing exponentially (please see The World Wide U.S. War of Terror)).
It spending so much of GDP on military, wars of invasion, the war of terrorism, and mass killing ... effective in helping people?
Yes - in exactly the same manner that placing dill pickles around Whitehall protects it from tigers. No tigers in the building? Then our dill pickles must be working. Need to sell more pickles? Issue a yellow alert, and amber alert, a red alert based upon secret non publicly available “evidence” that tigers have been stirring. Sigh... sales of dill pickles have made their manufacturers and the several law makers who coincidentally are former CEOs of pickle companies and large contributors to political campaign funds, very, very rich.
What if the government had not spent taxpayer money on pickles? What would the money buy instead? Some examples:
  • 63,300,000 scholarships for university students every year for ten years [57]
  • free health care for 58,900,000 low income children every year for ten years [58]
  • Give 23.6 Million People Access To Low-Income Healthcare Every Year For Ten Years [59]
  • retrofit 69,400,000 homes with wind power every year for ten years removing dependence upon oil [60]
  • and oh, so very much more which would actually be of real benefit to people ...
The priorities and motivations of those in power may be, as they have been throughout history, questionable:
"In the Pentagon ... one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. ’Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq’, he said [this was well before the U.S. invasion of that country]. But there was more. ’This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan’, he said, and ’there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan....’”
~ U.S. General Wesley Clark [61], “Winning Modern Wars”, pp. 130
Please note: The numbers publicly available for military spending by the U.S. do not include so-called ’black-ops’ (vide infra), space weaponisation, spending on mercenary troops, SOCOM activities, spy drone and armed robot development and deployment, covert wars (eg. in Colombia, Darfur, etc.), so-called “cyberwarfare” (please also see Cyberwar is a war against you)), NSA infrastucture (see Is Universal Surveillance Oppression? Yes.)), weapons spending, etc.. It has been estimated that were these numbers to be included then actual spending would make up 73% of U.S. GNP. In other words, the U.S. economy has been alleged to be a war-based economy. This is easily seen from the basic data presented in my article here: The Hubris of Empire: Is the United States the world’s greatest threat to peace? .
"What no one seemed to notice... was the ever widening gap... between the government and the people. The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway... and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ’crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ’national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ’regretted,’ that... one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing.
One day it is over his head. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. But the one great shocking occasion... never comes. That’s the difficulty."
~ Milton Mayer (1908-1986) on the Nazi takeover of Germany [63]
In 2014 - the same year that the U.S. achieved the highest average rate of child poverty in the industrialised world [Op. cit.] and the lowest average science and math test scores in the western world [65] - the U.S. government decided to give $176,000,000,000 to General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls corporations to to build ten new Virginia-class submarines [66, 67]. Tax money well spent. Right?
What type of society gives $176,000,000,000 toward the building of Virginia-class nuclear submarines while simultaneously having the highest rate of child poverty and infant mortality of all the industrialised countries? The answer sadly, is all to obvious - its a society which does this: Are U.S. Run Torture Sites Crimes Against Humanity?).
(an image: pls click to see it)
(Graphic: Numbers abstracted from W. Andrews, T. Linderman [69]. This is just one tiny aspect of known yearly U.S. military spending)
In 2016 the U.S. Defence Department’s Inspector General issued a report [118] on recent Army expenditures. The report showed that the U.S. Army (just on branch of the U.S. military) made up $6.5 trillion in expenses for the previous year. That is to say, lacked receipts, proof of how the money was spent, and simply in the words of the report, “materially misstated” [ibid] expenditures - i.e. lied.
This followed on a 2013 Reuters journalistic investigations which showed systemic falsified accounting by the Defence Department on a massive scale. In other words, the U.S. military spent and spends public money with little to no accountability such that it was/is impossible to tell if they are spending it on luxury home and even prostitutes for generals (they appear to be - please see [119, 120]) or bribing politicians.
Where is the money going? Nobody knows,”
~ Franklin Spinney [121], author of the so-called "Spinney Report" showing U.S. military disregard for public monies as far back as the early 1980s
Needless to say, nothing was done such at more that 30 years later the U.S. military was doing exactly the same thing. To date absolutely nothing has been or is being done about this. When this type of thing goes on for decades, with numerous report, whistleblowers, and investigations showing time and time again systemic lies and apparent fraud, can there be any doubt whatsoever that wholesale graft and corruption regarding the public purse may be the norm in the higher levels of the U.S. military?

6.4.6 Additional Sources:

“It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”
~ Albert Einstein [70]
  1. The World Wide U.S. War of Terror)
  2. Jus Ad Bellum: Kant, Hegel, and other war spelaeologist
  3. Psychopaths in power)
  4. The Hubris of Empire: Is the United States the world’s greatest threat to peace?
  5. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Military Expenditure Project [Petter Stålenheim, Catalina Perdomo and Elisabeth Sköns, principle authors [71]
  6. United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries [72]
  7. US General Accounting Office [73]
  8. Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation [74]
  9. Congressional Research Service [75]
  10. CIA Word Fact Book [76]
  11. U.S. Census Bureau [77]
  12. US Department of Defence Discretionary Budget Requests [78]
  13. Institute for Peace and Justice [79]
  14. Friends (Quakers) Committee on National Legislation [80]
  15. Federation of American Scientists: Military Analysis Network [81]
  16. United Nations War Crimes Commission [82]
  17. Malaysian War Crimes Tribunal [83]
  18. Russel War Crimes Trials [84]
  19. United Nations Human Development Reports [85]
  20. United States Census Bureau [86]
  21. United States Department of Defence Base Structure Report [87]
  22. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (numerous reports) [88]
  23. Médecins Sans Frontières [89]
  24. Democracy Now and Amnesty International: several reports on mercenary armies [90]
  25. Arms Control Center reports [91]
  26. H. Zinn, History of the United States [92]
  27. N. Chomsky, R. Fisk, M. Parenti, numerous reports on war [93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98]
  28. many others
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
~ D. Eisenhower [99], former U.S. president
[127 References Bibliography for my site)]