Leadership: The Hundred Years War

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February8, 2007: The war on terror will last over a century, at least for the accountants. It works like this. The U.S. Department of Defense is requesting $481.4 billion for operations in the next fiscal year (which starts this October.) That is a four percent increase from last years budget. Combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are handled by supplemental funds. Last year, that amounted to $70 billion, and $93.4 billion is being requested for next year. The supplemental funds have not covered all the war costs, and a lot of the actual costs are being covered by the regular budget.

This is not all cut and dry. The combat operations are providing a tremendous advantage in the form of combat experience. Not just for the troops, but also for those developing new weapons and equipment. Try as they might, the military can never seem to test new weapons, tactics and equipment as effectively in peacetime, as they do in wartime.

The 7,000 or so combat casualties incurred each year are another major "expense," not just to the troops killed or injured, but in the long term. Past experience has shown that the long term care of wounded veterans (and pensions for their survivors of the dead) gets very expensive, and goes on for a long time. Even troops who are not wounded in combat, suffer illness and injuries that have long term consequences. This is particularly true in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where there are a lot of diseases that Americans are normally not exposed to, and that tends to have unexpected long term impact. Note, for example, that the cost of World War II (over $3 trillion in current money) was doubled, by the 1990s, because of veterans benefits and obligations. We won't stop paying for World War II until the 2030s. The last widow of an American Civil War (1861-65) veteran died in 2003. Thus we can expect that the war on terror won't be paid for until sometime in the 22nd century.

 


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