War on Terror cost the US twice Japan's GDP


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War is expensive. It is all the more expensive when one's military uses the latest military technology as the US does. Since 2001 America has waged war especially in Afghanistan (between 2001 and 2021), in Iraq (from 2003 to 2011) and in Syria (2011 to present).

A report from the Costs of War project at Brown University, one of the top universities in the US (9th best this year), revealed that the War on Terror cost the US budget $8 trillion. To put this in perspective, that's twice the annual GDP of Japan. In other words this is all the money made by all companies and every individual in Japan for 2 years. I'm not talking about taxes paid, but all the money generated, used, saved and paid in taxes.

What does $8 trillion really represent for American taxpayers? The country now has a population of 330 million people, but this of course includes children, students, unemployed people and retired people. I found that there were approximately 165 million taxpayers in the US in 2022. But the country's population has increased in the last 20 years. In 2012 there were only 135 million taxpayers, while in 2002 they were 130 million. Even basing ourselves on 165 million people paying taxes, the cost of these war would have amounted to $50,000 per taxpayer in average. Of course people with higher salaries who pay more taxes would inevitably carry her higher share of the cost of war. The average American taxpayer pays $16,600 per year. So what that means is that the war on terror cost the equivalent of 3 years of taxes for an American taxpayer. As it is an average it doesn't matter how much each person pays per year. If someone usually pays $100,000 per year then they would have paid in total $300,000 to contribute to the war on terror.

Here is another way of imagining what $8 trillion represents. Can you see what a $1 million house looks like? That's 8 million houses like this. Put the family in four people in each of them and you can house 32 million people. Obviously most Americans or Europeans do not live in a $1 million house. Depending on the country and region the price of a family home would be between a third and half of that — say from $350,000 to $500,000. So with $8 trillion you could build houses for 64 to 100 million people in rich countries! That's enough to completely rebuild all the houses and apartments in a country like the UK or France.

Remember that the war in Afghanistan started with the terrorist attack of 9/11. Yet it cost the US government many times more than all the buildings in the greater New York area. The new World Trade Center in New York ended up costing $3.9 billion. Of course it is bigger, better and more expensive than the old World Trade Center. But the War on Terror cost over 2,000 times what it cost to rebuild the WTC! This could be seen as the victory for the Talibans, who managed to inflate the cost to the US of 9/11 thousands of times.

Those $8 trillion is only what it cost the US government. Many Western countries as well as Japan and South Korea either send troops or supported financially the allies in these three wars.

Add to this the human cost : 900,000 people killed.

The saddest thing in all this is that the 20-year war in Afghanistan served no purpose at all. The Talibans, which had been expelled by the US-led invasion, came back in power as soon as the US and its allies left the country in 2021.

The situation in Iraq and Syria it's still very unstable, far more than at any time since these countries were created (in 1932 and 1946 respectively). The US failed to bring democracy, peace and/or prosperity to any of these countries.

So all that money and all those lives were ultimately wasted. In fact it can be argued that it only made a bad situation worse. The only winners in all this are the weapon manufacturers, and in the case of Iraq also some oil companies that were able to seize the Iraqi oil fields (this article explains exactly which company got what. They are not just American oil companies but also European and East Asian ones).
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