The Logic of War: Iraq, Afghanistan, & Pakistan

A team of researchers, co-directed by Brown University anthropologist Catherine Lutz, released a report this summer which sought to estimate the full scale of the direct and indirect costs of ten years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The report concluded that the financial and human costs of the war have been vastly underestimated (the Executive Summary of the report can be found here).

Among the study’s findings:

  • A conservative estimate of the number of dead was 224,475 people. The majority of these – 172,300 – were civilians (p. 3)
  • The financial costs of the wars ranged from $3.7 to $4.4 trillion (p. 7)
  • 7.8 million Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani civilians were displaced (p. 5)
  • 365,383 people were injured as a result of the wars, including military, civilians, contractors, etc. (p. 4)

The authors point out that there are other indirect costs that are harder to quantify, such as the psychological toll inflicted in survivors, the elevated risk of substance abuse,  suicide, marital stress, etc. To that list, one could add the other, still underappreciated, physiological stresses which become embedded in human bodies, particularly when experienced early in life.


While objective research into the costs of war is necessary, at some point, numbers become abstractions which can never fully convey the suffering of those who experience it. At the very least, reports such as this one serve as a reminder that wars are never easy and – because of our limited intelligence – we repeatedly forget this fact (or we lie to ourselves about it). The authors of the report wrote in the introductory paragraph:

Nearly every government that goes to war underestimates its duration, neglects to tally all the costs, and overestimates the political objectives that can be accomplished by the use of brute force.”

Others have voiced similar opinions on war, including Winston Churchill:

Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

And, once the decision is made to let slip the dogs of war, it is inevitable that human lives – combatant and non alike – will be destroyed, as seen above. In the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kruschev wrote to Kennedy:

“We and you ought not to pull on the ends of a rope in which you have tied the knots of war. Because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you. I have participated in two wars, and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction. For such is the logic of war. If people do not display wisdom, they will clash like blind moles, and then mutual annihilation will commence.” (emphasis added)

We need more wisdom.

(Jump to the 12 min, 20 sec mark)

3 thoughts on “The Logic of War: Iraq, Afghanistan, & Pakistan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.