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Jul 11 2013

The waste of wars

The biggest waste of wars lies in the loss of human lives, not to mention the trauma that war inflicts on those who have to live through it. But in addition, wars also waste immense amounts of money that could have been so much better used to improve the lives of the people in those countries made their lives so much better. Instead, wars destroy what infrastructure they have so the people in war-torn countries are harmed in multiple ways.

Jonathan Turley writes that even winding down a war involves a massive waster of equipment. He points to the case of Afghanistan where the US military is deliberately destroying valuable equipment because it would cost more to bring it all back to America.

Some 20 percent of our equipment in Afghanistan will be destroyed or abandoned rather than ship it home. Much of the equipment will be shredded to make pennies for Afghans.

By the way, some of the trashed equipment will be the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles that were built at huge expensive starting in 2007. Now a few year later, the Pentagon says that it really does not see the use for about 12,300 of its 25,500 MRAPs. These vehicles cost $1 million each and will now be turned into pennies or scrap.

So if you are keeping score that is over $12 billion worth of expensive, sophisticated vehicles deliberately destroyed.

The Washington Post reports on yet more waste such as a massive 64,000 square foot, $34 million military headquarters that was constructed in the Helmand region of Afghanistan despite the commanders there saying they did not want or need it. It seems like no expense was spared in building it.

The building’s amenities also have prompted alarm among senior officers. A two-star Marine general who has toured the facility called it “better appointed than any Marine headquarters anywhere in the world.” A two-star Army general said the operations center is as large as those at the U.S. Central Command or the supreme allied headquarters in Europe.

“What the hell were they thinking?” the Army general said. “There was never any justification to build something this fancy.”

It is now facing the prospect of being torn down without having ever been used. So why not give it to the Afghans when the US leaves, since at least they might benefit from it?

Although the handoff sounds appealing, U.S. officials doubt the Afghans will be able to sustain the structure. It has complex heating and air-conditioning systems that demand significant amounts of electricity, which, in turn, require costly fuel purchases for generators. The building is wired for 110-volt appliances, not the 220-volt equipment used by Afghans. And, the officials note, the U.S. military recently built a new headquarters building on the Afghan base that adjoins Leatherneck. [My italics-MS]

It is the mismatched electrical system that really gets me, suggesting that the builders knew from the start that this had of no long-term value and yet they made it fancy anyway. And all this to what end? As Turley says:

Even accepting this cost-benefit analysis, we are still left with the insane cost of these wars. Few people in government are willing to admit how little we have accomplished in these wars. China is moving into Iraq and taking oil rights and other benefits. Iraq has moved under the sphere of influence of Iran. The Taliban is on the rise in Afghanistan and we continue to be hated in many areas.

There is of course a reason for this colossal waste for no apparent return. Wars do not serve just political or military purposes. They are also a means by which governments can give public money to private companies to provide equipment and services with o questions asked. It would be hard for the government to make the case that the public should simply give giant corporations like General Electric huge sums of money. But say that GE is building a massive system to ‘protect us from terrorist attacks’ and the public happily accepts handing out huge checks.

Wars should really be seen as a welfare program for the high-tech and construction industries.

27 comments

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  1. 1
    sailor1031

    “…a welfare program for the high-tech and construction industries.”

    Exactly. Didn’t Generals Butler and Eisenhower point this out long ago?

  2. 2
    sailor1031

    As for MRAPs, did they save lives or simply make it more difficult to extricate victims from the wreckage?

  3. 3
    Chiroptera

    The building is wired for 110-volt appliances, not the 220-volt equipment used by Afghans.

    Oh, holy mother of god! When I was in the Peace Corps, I brought a short wave radio that I bought in the US, and then when I was in country I bought an adaptor, thereby contributing in some small way to the local economy. Any additional electrical items I purchased in country, helping the local economy. When I returned to the US, I gave my electrical items to the local friends I made. And I was able to do this despite only getting $200 a month from the Peace Corps! I’m pretty sure that American personnel could have done something similar while drawing US level salaries.

  4. 4
    Rob Grigjanis

    The tree of liberty Mammon must be refreshed from time to time whenever possible with the blood of patriots and tyrants common folk.

  5. 5
    slc1

    Well, it should be pointed out that one reason why Frankenberger did much better at reducing unemployment in Germany then Roosevelt did in the US is because he greatly increased military spending. Somebody has to assemble those tanks and aircraft.

  6. 6
    unbound

    @5 – fair enough, but FDR did better still employing the masses for infrastructure projects that benefited more than the workers employed.

  7. 7
    slc1

    Agreed. However, Roosevelt’s spending on infrastructure, relatively speaking was greatly exceeded by Frankenberger’s spending on weapons. In addition,
    Frankenberger also spent on infrastructure, in particular, building the Autobahns.

  8. 8
    Marcus Ranum

    Having your country laid to waste, bombed flat, and used as a raping-ground by the Soviet Army – is not exactly a good cost/benefit equation. I think that’s the problem with war-makers: ordinary people need to say, “HEY! Your spending billions of our $$ planning for a nuclear war… um, that nuclear war involves us getting fried, right?”

  9. 9
    Marcus Ranum

    Wars do not serve just political or military purposes

    The term “war crime” is redundant. War is a crime, period.

  10. 10
    slc1

    Frankenberger wasn’t planning on having his country bombed flat, he was planning on bombing other people’s countries flat.

  11. 11
    MNb

    From an economic point of view weapons and thus war are destruction of capital in the most literal meaning of the word.

  12. 12
    slc1

    It interesting to note that Frankenberger’s Autobahn building rationales were similar to Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway building rationales. Both were justified by their military value, namely allowing the movement of large numbers of troops and equipment quickly. For instance, the bridges on the Interstate System are designed to support the passage of a 60 ton tank transporter carrying a 60 ton tank (e.g. 120 tons). Of course, tanks these days tip the scales at nearly 70 tons; however, there is enough built in over-design to accommodate the heavier tanks and commensurately heavier transporters.

  13. 13
    Marcus Ranum

    That’s the point. It’s hardly ever part of the plan to lose, but in every war, there’s one really big loser and one moderate loser. Nobody “wins” really. Hitler was an idiot to expect that destruction would not come rushing back up the pipe at him – and the US is doing the same thing; we’re building up an amazing debt of worldwide hatred and when we stumble, they’re going to be all over us like wolves on a rabbit.

    (I hadn’t intended the previous as a specific reply to you; I was being more general and must have clicked the wrong ‘reply’)

  14. 14
    MNb

    Well, yes, except that we should not praise Schicklgruber, but the economic genius Hjalmar Schacht. Despite being an ultraconservative he was about the first to understand Keynesian economics.
    Hitler at the other hand didn’t, didn’t care and fired Schacht as soon as he got in the way of the rearmament program. In 1939 German economy was in grave danger of getting overheated, which was solved by invading Poland.
    Oh – and average welfare of the German worker wasn’t increased in 1939 compared to 1933. That motivated Georg Elser to try to kill Schicklgurber in November 1939.

  15. 15
    MNb

    Aha, another modern victim of nazi-propaganda.

    http://german.about.com/library/blgermyth08.htm

  16. 16
    Marcus Ranum

    Yup. And the Tennesee Valley Authority energy systems were not actually built to revitalize the local economy, they were built to power Oak Ridge. :\

    A huge amount of the US economy is covertly for warfare, which is kind of weird because we’ve always successfully exported it (so far)

  17. 17
    Marcus Ranum

    Yeah, it victimizes everyone, from multiple angles.

    It is ridiculous that intelligent people put up with leaders that encourage something so nonsensical and horrible. It really shows how stupid and easily manipulated humans are, that they will march to the sound of the drums when told the shabbiest of lies. :\

  18. 18
    MNb

    After some searching:

    http://www.dw.de/deutscher-mythos-adolf-hitler-und-die-autobahn/a-16148019

    “Sie behaupten, dass das Bauvorhaben 600 000 Jobs schaffen wird. Tatsächlich werden es nur 120 000 sein. Der Autobahnbau ist von Krankheit, Tod und Hunger geprägt.”
    They (the Nazi’s) thought the plans (to build highways) would create 600 000 jobs. In fact there were only 120 000 jobs. Building of the highways was plagued by illness, death and starvation.
    Yeah, really something Schicklgruber should be proud of.

  19. 19
    Cathy W

    I wonder if those things were done on a “cost plus” basis, where the contractor is paid their cost plus a fixed profit margin. I know a contractor in Iraq (KBR) spared no expense on outfitting a fitness center in the Green Zone, apparently because they got a percentage of the expense they didn’t spare…

  20. 20
    sailor1031

    That was assuming some kind of maintenance program I guess? Since several of these bridges have collapsed in recent years (Minnesota eg) they can no longer be considered fit for purpose. How, oh how will we get all those tanks to where they will be needed? I know – we’ll have a massive infrastructure building campaign….

  21. 21
    Mano Singham

    I suspect they were.

  22. 22
    slc1

    I don’t think that historians realize how near a run thing WW 2 was. Frankenberger made a number of strategic blunders that cost him the war. In particular, constructing the Bismarck and the Tirpitz (Frankenberger was enamored with battleships) instead of ocean going Uboats. Had the materials and manpower used to construct these useless vessels been used to construct Uboats instead, Britain would have been starved out of the war in 1940. Removal of Britain would have meant no side show in North Africa, no side show in Greece, no side show in Crete and no side show in Yugoslavia, all foisted on Germany by Britain. Given this scenario, Operation Barbarossa might well have succeeded in 1941, leaving the US to face Germany and Japan alone, except for minor contributions by Australia New Zealand, and Canada. So Frankenberger might well have avoided having his country bombed flat, at least until 1945 and the nuclear bomb, except that where were the B29s going to take off from to drop them on German targets?

  23. 23
    slc1

    The average welfare of the German worker who was previously unemployed and was thence employed building tanks, aircraft and the Autobahn was certainly improved.

  24. 24
    slc1

    That assumes long term planning, which we’re not very good at.

  25. 25
    slc1

    Good point. Most of the electricity produced during WW 2 there was used to power the equipment that produced U235.

  26. 26
    slc1

    Much like the construction of the Panama Canal.

  27. 27
    slc1

    Excuse me, in a cost plus fixed fee contract, the contractor is entitled to the fixed fee even he/she comes in under budget. There are other incentives for a contractor to spend all the money in the contract but the fee is not such an incentive.

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