In the past 10 years, the United States has engaged in active military and peace-keeping operations in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Iraq, Liberia, Haiti, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Libya and the Philippines. At the end of 2012, more than 173,000 active troops were on deployment outside of the U.S. in more than 150 countries. War has become life in our time. With the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor a few days ago, I thought to revisit the subject.
There is no reliable way to quantify the cost of a human life, nor the benefit to our way of life, when the nation chooses to engage in war. I believe that while war is waged by countries, the costs of war are often felt by individuals. To all who have served and will serve, I hope the hearts of those you know swell with gratitude, as mine does, at the thought of your many gifts to our country.
Though human life is priceless and the value of preserving our way of life may be economically indeterminable, the costs, benefits and general economics of war can be frankly discussed. I hope to take a few lines to demonstrate a few of the clear economic issues of warfare, and specifically those affecting our country.
In the economics of warfare we find one key area of dissonance, namely, how to balance the rational thought of the individual wanting to live a productive and happy life with the general interests of a larger population seeking to achieve a military objective. Indeed, no soldier enters into a firefight with the intent of giving his or her life for their country — it simply wouldn’t be human to do so. While tendencies of statolatry or nationalism often benefit the larger body of soldiers by providing clear purpose and a desire to fight, no philosophy can overcome the basic human need to keep living.
Several studies around the tendencies of an individual soldier have shown that during a firefight a low percentage of soldiers fired their weapons, an even lower percentage fired in the direction of the enemy and very few fired weapons while actively aiming at an enemy soldier. This makes rational sense, as a soldier with line-of-sight on an enemy soldier can deliver as well as receive fire. Efforts in the development of military technologies have overcome much of this obstacle, providing a way to engage enemies from larger distances using more remote and impersonal means of waging war.
The movement of the use of swords to the sniper rifle to the predator drone has eliminated some of the perceived military weakness of the individual soldier, but it has not dealt with the overarching economic causes of war. Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, a nationalistically fueled Japanese government began actively expanding its borders. The U.S., in response, initiated embargoes of steel and oil, and froze Japanese assets. As a result, Japan was forced to consider how to best continue to expand its borders and prevent the United States from effective military action in the Pacific. The result was a pre-emptive strike on Pearl Harbor, crippling the U.S. Navy. In Europe, the expansion of Germany’s borders provides similar anecdotal evidence to explain the conflict and the atrocities that occurred thereafter. One might presume that similar comparisons could be made wherever a strong nationalistic attitude can be found.
In our time, we may be faced with the consequences of economic development within our own country. Oil production in the United States is at a 24-year high, while imports of the same are at a 17-year low.
Though oil alone is not necessarily a cause of armed conflict, the diminished dependence on the Middle East for our oil supply is a key destabilizing factor. In a free-market system, where all trading among all parties is done absent of interference from governments, war would always be a source of zero-sum economics. Peace would bring profitability, and the most efficient producers would produce their most profitable products. In our world, however, the economic policies of many nations are leading us to inevitable conflict.
My simple hope is that we never generalize our soldiers with numbers.
Benjamin A. Gochberg lives in Avon.