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War’s Adverse Impacts

February 2011

Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D.

From a health perspective, U.S. wars in other countries are multiply dangerous - not only because of deaths and disability involving civilians and military troops in those countries - but also because of the wars’ enormous financial drain on our economy, especially when budget deficits are causing draconian cuts to be proposed, endangering the health of Americans.

Let’s first examine the toll on people in one country where war has been waged. A recently published paper used the most reliable and conservative methods to estimate deaths during the Iraq war and concluded that there were 92,614 Iraqi civilian deaths from armed violence occurring from March 20, 2003 through March 19, 2008. This, of course, does not count the much larger numbers of severely disabled civilians, nor does it include any of the deaths or disability of Iraqi or U.S. troops.

The domestic impacts that result from war-necessitated budget cuts include the weakening of government programs and regulations, such as worker health and safety programs, Medicaid for those who cannot otherwise afford to purchase health insurance, environmental protections and product safety regulations.

The connection between wars’ direct toll of deaths and injuries and the damage to people in this country because of budget cuts is, not surprisingly, “simply” a matter of money. The most recent estimate of the cost this fiscal year of waging the war in Afghanistan is $116 billion. Current estimates are that by the end of this year we will have spent approximately $1 trillion on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

An increasing number of elected representatives from across the political spectrum have supported ending the Afghanistan war, now the longest war in U.S. history. Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California joined conservative Reps. Ron Paul of Texas and Walter Jones of North Carolina to support a much faster withdrawal from Afghanistan. Congressman Jones summed it up quite well, saying that the conflict “is breaking the military.” He added, “We are trying to take a country that’s never had a national government and make them a democracy. It just doesn’t work.”

For the sake of the lives and health of people in the countries where the U.S. is waging devastating wars - and for the sake of the lives and health inevitably lost here at home from programs cut in order to pay for these wars - enough is enough.