Peace Is A Bargain

by Charley Reese

April 29, 2002

After the atomic and hydrogen bombs scared the heck out of everybody, including their inventors, people said that war had become too destructive.

Well, that didn't prove to be an impediment. The nuclear powers just resorted to proxy wars with conventional weapons. These conventional weapons are no slackers when it comes to killing. After all, the 55 million people who died in World War II died by conventional means, save the couple of hundred thousand at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But I'm hopeful yet. What might finally stop war is the fact that it has become just too darn expensive. Our Pentagon says that the first six months of the "war" in Afghanistan cost $30 billion. Now, if it costs $30 billion to defeat a ragtag bunch of militiamen living in rubble to begin with, what would it cost to defeat a country with a halfway-decent military force? What is the per capita cost of a dead Taliban member? It must be in the millions.

The situation reminds me of a joke about a notoriously stingy submarine commander during World War II. He had been much impressed with the cost not only of the submarine but of each torpedo. As they were closing in on an enemy destroyer, he kept getting closer and closer for fear he would miss and waste a torpedo. Finally, one of the crew shouted over the intercom: "Fire the damned thing, sir! I'll pay for it myself!"

Tanks in my day cost about a half-million dollars each, and until I flew on a passenger jet, they were by far the most expensive vehicles I'd ever been in. Today, I can't imagine flying in a bomber that costs $1 billion. Just thinking about what a hole that would put in the U.S. budget if I had to ditch would, I fear, make me about as cautious as that fictional submarine commander.

It would be ironic if the munitions makers put themselves out of business by building weapons so expensive that no government could afford to use them. What those of us who are interested in peace should do is find a way to make sure all wars are fought on a cash-and-carry basis. No credit. No deficit spending. I believe that would cool the war instincts of even a George W. Bush.

Ernie Hemingway said it a long time ago, and I'm paraphrasing: The first thing politicians do to hide their mismanagement is inflate the currency, and the second thing is start a war. You'll have to admit that the single biggest beneficiary of the undeclared war on terrorism is President Bush. His ratings were so-so until Sept. 11. Now he's made himself a national hero.

While I dislike disguising my natural optimism, I worry that we get so excited over small accomplishments today. Let's face it: Defeating the Taliban is not like defeating Napoleon. It doesn't come close to a Gettysburg (53,000 casualties in three days). Perhaps it's the equivalent of occupying Haiti, which we once did with a few Marines.

At any rate, for the first time in my life, I am cheering on the arms makers. Pile on the costs. Pile on the markups. Profiteer to your heart's content. Keep making war so expensive that the price of victory will be national bankruptcy.

Then and only then will politicians decide that there are better and cheaper ways to settle ultimately small disputes than bombing rubble into pulverized rubble. All Americans should be willing to die for their country, but no American should ever die because of a politician's stupidity or ego.

Extracted 09/17/02 from Charley Reese


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