US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The morally revolting cost of the war on terror

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

A story in today's Chicago Tribune about the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--a cost, it turns out, almost impossible to calculate--should draw a long horrified pause from any Christian, especially when compared with a story in the same section about the desire of some in Congress to cut food stamps because they are getting too expensive.

Some numbers: $38 billion for two years of air conditioning for troops in Afghanistan, which is 40 years worth of funding for Amtrack. $385 billion, which pays for 40 months of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is also the cost of nine years of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. (Which would you rather have?) The annual cost of each service person in the theater: $694,000 per person. Total cost including interest on the debt sold to pay for the war: $3.7 trillion, or $12,000 per American.

As for food stamps, they cost a mere $68 billion in 2010, an amount that doubled since 2007 because of the financial crisis. And yet it is here, in food assistance for the poor--many of whom are working but can't earn enough to feed their families--is where our feckless leaders would seek cuts.

This is clearly a form of insanity, fiscal to be certain, but moral as well. It is also utterly irrational, since, as Maryann Cusmano Love argues in our September interview, the war on terror has done little to make us safer.

But one must wonder about the silence of the millions of Christians in this country, who know well our obligations to the poor, which must be reflected in our "common" government budget, according to Catholic social teaching. This kind of military spending, as the U.S. bishops argued in their 1983 peace pastoral, The Challenge of Peace, is nothing less than theft from the poor, who have a particular claim on the common good. To fail in our duties on their behalf is nothing less than a sin.

Related: The wages of war: The steep costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan