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Edited by Derek L. Braddon and Keith Hartley
Chapter 12: The Long-term Costs of Conflict: The Case of the Iraq War
Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz 12.1 OVERVIEW The history of war is a cycle of people destroying and then repairing. Fighting, killing, exhausting armies, depleting treasuries and razing buildings . . . followed by taking care of the wounded, reconstructing, repaying war debts and recruiting fresh troops. The repercussions of war persist for years and decades after the last shot is fired. Despite this well-worn path, the inevitable costs, the economic consequences and the likely difficulties are seldom mentioned at the start of a conflict. Even when they are mentioned, the costs and risks are systematically understated. The result is that the burden of financing the war, the social cost of lives lost, quality of life impaired, families damaged, the expense of caring for veterans, not to mention investments forgone and alternative policies not pursued – none of these are aired in the run-up to war. There are several reasons for this failure, besides a genuine miscalculation. First, political leaders seldom portray war as a matter of choice, but rather as a necessity – to protect the homeland, the country’s citizens or the country’s honor. When the threats are less imminent, they are inflated by talking of the risks of appeasement: the battle is portrayed as inevitable, and to wait would only increase the eventual costs. In such a situation, exemplified by the Second World War, talk about costs is beside the point. The truth, however, is that frequently there is some element of choice. There is a broad consensus that the war...
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