Monday, November 23, 2009

The costs of war

I used to say I had been around so long that nothing surprised me. But last week, I got surprised -- I should say I had a jaw-dropping shock is a better way to say it - every time I picked up the newspaper and read about the numbers we're throwing around lately.
Like yesterday when I picked up The New York Times to discover we have spent more money rebuilding Iraq's schools, hospitals, water treatment and electrical plants - $54 billion - than we have spent on any construction project since the Marshall Plan, which you'll recall was to rebuild Europe after World War II.
Sobering but not surprising: Many of those facilities may close when we leave because there are not enough trained Iraqis to operate them.
Another number in the news last week that I found astounding: It is now costing us one million dollars a year to keep one U.S. soldier on the ground in Afghanistan, not to mention that for every soldier there, we have one civilian contractor.

The above is from Bob Schieffer's "Bob Schieffer Asks Whether America Is Secure After Accruing More Than a Trillion in Debt to Other Nations" (CBS, Face The Nation -- link is text and video). Meanwhile Nelson Daranciang (Honolulu Star-Bulletin) reports on a ceremony "yesterday at Marriott Inhilani Resort and Spa) for 70 members of the US Army reserves who are "are assigned or attached to 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment, 9th Mission Support Command in Hawaii or 1984th USAR Hospital in Alaska" and were honored with a Welcome Home Warrior Citizen Award Program. Yesterday a ceremony was also held in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Stephen J. Lee (Grand Forks Herald) reports a ceremony was held for the "69 soldiers from this Grand Forks-based unit of the North Dakota National Guard" which heads for Texas (Fort Hood) for training before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. Digital Video & Imagery Distribution System notes speakers included "Sen. Kent Conrad; Congressman Earl Pomeroy; Karen Engelter, a representative of Sen. Byron Dorgan; Hal Gershman, Grand Forks City Council president; Brig. Gen. William Seekins, North Dakota National Guard land component commander; and State Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald Miller."

In the US military, suicides have increased this year -- or at least in the army which may be the only one to release statistics in a timely manner. The New Jersey Star-Ledger's "Military suicides: Army Sgt. Coleman Bean's downward spiral ends with gunfire" explores the topic at length -- and no writer's credited here because the paper doesn't provide a byline (only "By Star-Ledger Staff"). From the article:

Linda and Greg Bean urged their son to get help, but he initially resisted, saying he'd had a tough time getting treatment at the VA medical center in Lyons, a section of Bernards Township, for what he suspected to be an ulcer. Appointments were repeatedly canceled, he told his parents. He didn’t want to go through that hassle again.
In the spring of 2007, a letter from the Army changed his mind. Bean had finished his four years of active duty, but until 2008, he would remain a member of the Individual Ready Reserve, a pool of tens of thousands of soldiers who are no longer required to train or report to bases but who may be called back to service when the need arises. The need, apparently, had arisen. The Army wanted him back.
Greg Bean made the hour-long drive with his son to Lyons from the family’s East Brunswick home. As Coleman Bean described his symptoms and battle experiences to a VA doctor, he "became agitated" and "started shaking and sweating," according to medical records given to Bean’s parents.
The doctor diagnosed him with PTSD, recommending an intensive, three-week inpatient program. Again, Bean resisted, wrestling with what he considered a moral decision, his parents said. The VA diagnosis and any ongoing treatment might spare him a return trip to Iraq, but he questioned whether he would be abandoning his responsibilities and his duty. In the end, Bean kept the diagnosis to himself.

Along with suicides in the US (some recognized as such, some not) the US military has lost 4365 service members -- the number killed in Iraq since the start of the Iraq War. England has lost 179. In England, Julia Reid (Sky News -- link has text and video) speaks with Geoff Dunsmore, father of Chris Dunsmore who died serving in Iraq (July 19, 2007). He speaks of the Iraq Inquiry due to start this week in London, "The nation needs to know why we went to Iraq, clearly and concisely. We need to know why it cost money, but the biggest thing is why it cost a lot of lives -- my son's as one of them. I hope the inquiry will help the families that are struggling and trying to get some sense out of all this." The inquiry is set to begin tomorrow and BBC News (link has text and video) notes John Chilcot, who will head the investigation, is insisting the inquiry will not issue a "whitewash". The Telegraph of London observes, "His comments come after the deep hostility of Britain's senior military commanders in Iraq towards their American allies was revealed in classified Government documents leaked to The Daily Telegraph." (See last night's entry for links to the bulk of the Telegraph's reports on this topic.) In "The Iraq inquiry sideshow" (Guardian), Chris Ames observes:

Andrew Gilligan has returned to haunt the government on Iraq. His revelations in the Sunday Telegraph and today's Telegraph tell us a lot about the attitude of the military before and after the invasion and provide more evidence that it was planned from early 2002, whatever Tony Blair said. But they are perhaps as significant for what they tell us about Sir John Chilcot's Iraq inquiry. They are a humiliation for the inquiry, which – as I write – has not put a single piece of new evidence into the public domain.
I was accused at the weekend (by John Rentoul, who gets most things wrong) of having been vociferous in demanding an inquiry but being quick to call it a whitewash. I don't think I've used the "w" word, but I have always been sceptical about what a new inquiry might achieve. In March, before the Chilcot inquiry was announced, I wrote here that "there will be new leaks and new disclosures, to the point where a secret inquiry will look like a sideshow". Chilcot may be putting a brave face on things but his inquiry is indeed in danger of becoming the sideshow.
For all its faults, the Hutton inquiry published a mass of information. Chilcot says his committee has seen a mountain of documents but his inquiry's "evidence" paget is blank – probably because it has been set up to hold transcripts rather than documents. As I have written, the Cabinet Office's protocol for the publication of government documents requires prior permission and lists so many reasons for refusal that the inquiry has perhaps decided not to bother.

Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Barack 'Listens'" went up last night.

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