Friday, March 13, 2009

The Cost of War

To a Nine-Inch Gun
By P.F. McCarthy (1915)

Whether your shell hits the target or not,
Your cost is Five Hundred Dollars a Shot.
You thing of noise and flame and power,
We feed you a hundred barrels of flour
Each time you roar. Your flame is fed
With twenty thousand loaves of bread.
Silence! A million hungry men
Seek bread to fill their mouths again.

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This poem was found in Upton Sinclair’s “The Cry for Justice,” an anthology of social protest literature, updated in 1996. As our economy tanks, one of the more intriguing questions in peace studies is the cost of war. We usually discuss this in session seven of the Class of Nonviolence. This is a lively discussion for an economics class, but could also be incorporated into U.S. history. San Antonio author Donald F Fies’s 54-page booklet, American Military History: The Costs of American Wars in Lives and Dollars From April 19, 1775 Through December 31, 2005, includes financial costs for each war in "at-time" dollars and in current dollars compared to total federal government spending. (How many barrels of flour for a $871,000 Tactical Tomahawk missile? I reckon about 4,500.) It’s available on

These two videos explain the cost of our current U.S. wars, each powerful in its own way:

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