Catherine Lutz: “magical thinking” and the costs of war

Catherine Lutz delivers her conservative Costs of War accounting in a calm teacherly tone, but her reckoning is nothing short of outrageous: it was a 5 Trillion Dollar War after all, this ten-year response to 9/11. She is counting, on top of the direct military allocations, something like a trillion for the lifetime care of American service men and women injured in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan; and probably another trillion in interest on a credit-card war, financed without war taxes or even a pretense of shared sacrifice. She is not counting the war damages our force inflicted on invisible, mostly innocent villages and families under our guns. She is not counting the “opportunity cost” in jobs, profits, and sustainable growth in the US if the war investment had gone to the basics of a modern economy, like science, education, and infrastructure.

The multiples in relation to the World Trade Center attacks are astonishing. The ratio of war dead over ten years to the 3000 lives lost on September 11, 2011 is more than 80 to 1. The dollar ratio is grotesque. If indeed the satanic Osama bin Laden was calculating a pin-point assault to provoke an enfeebling, self-ruinous fit of reaction, his payoff in a $5-trillion war to answer his $500,000 attack was 10-million to 1.

‘It’s phenomenal,” notes Lutz, though she is keeping her professorial cool. “One could talk about over-reaction to 9/11. But I think we also have to talk about what the Iraq War was all about. We know that it had nothing to do with 9/11 — that 9/11 was the pretext for that invasion. So all of the lost lives and dollars for Iraq were not even intended as remedy. But we have to ask ourselves: how did that happen, and how does it continue to happen?”

Catherine Lutz, the Brown University anthropologist, with Neta Crawford of Boston University and Linda Bilmes of Harvard, led a score of scholars in tabulating what the government and the loyal opposition might have been arguing about over the last decade — what the networks and newspapers should have been clarifying. War “without a scorecard” has hardened us to a cruel, fruitless succession of imperial campaigns that, despite the evidence, reinforce a heedless faith in the war remedy. At the ten-year mark, Professor Lutz is saying, we are overdue for a public conversation “about our overestimation of the utility of force. We could talk about why we believe force works. I think there’s a kind of magical thinking in this. People assume that if something bad didn’t happen to us, it must be because we deployed force in the Middle East. That doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. There’s no good evidence that any significant part of that investment panned out.”

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