The figures are simply astronomical. It began with the 2001, September 11 al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington when 2,976 innocent civilians were murdered. Since then the toll of innocents killed directly has grown exponentially.
The Costs of War Project at Brown University in Rhode Island estimates that between 184,382 and 207,156 civilians died in immediate, war-related violence in the period 2003 to 2019. According to the same project, approximately 241,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2001. More than 71,000 of those killed have been innocent civilians.
Poverty, malnutrition, disease and environmental degradation have claimed the lives of tens of thousands more in the officially designated ‘War on Terror’. Overwhelmingly the major casualties of the War have been innocent people. While we in the West properly acknowledge and mourn those Westerners killed, we do not do likewise for all others killed.
Our shock and horror are routinely highly selective. In war, it is always thus.
Most have died at the hands of groups such as Islamic State and the Taliban but according to the UK-based group Airwars drone and airstrikes by the US since 9/11 have killed at least 22,000 civilians.
The War on Terror has indeed been a war of terror for the very large numbers of entirely innocent people. Without doubt, this is the most striking and the most shocking cost to date and its longer-term consequences have yet to be seen and felt. As has been evident in the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan, the polarisation, alienation and mutual distrust between many Muslim and western countries continues to deepen.
And all the while our political and military ‘leaders’ continue to talk of justice, democracy and peace-building while pouring countless trillions into the war machine. The US has now spent $8 trillion $US8 trillion over 20 years in its response to the attacks of 9/11. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military expenditure in 2020 was estimated at $1981 billion, the highest since 1988. The US accounts for 40%+ of that figure, dwarfing all other major military spenders.
I am sadly reminded of a poster we published at the height of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. It proclaimed ‘Peace, Everyone is for it, Dying for it, Killing for it’. And, all the while, the militaristic and hostile language is dialled up and the language of hate given free rein.
The war has reverberated in a wide range of countries from Yemen to Syria to Turkey and Russia – wherever those in power wish to crush an opposition. It has fuelled division, xenophobia and increased hostility to ‘foreigners’ and those of ‘colour’ simultaneously fuelling racism, Islamophobia and white supremacy – threats to us all.
It has encouraged a reckless disregard for international agreements, norms and standards. It has undermined democracy and due process; it has promoted the use of torture without accountability.
As has been pointed out previously burgeoning militarisation and its current cutting edge - the War on Terror (‘an endless war’) is devastating in environmental terms. The US military is the world’s biggest institutional consumer of fossil fuels and is the single largest producer of greenhouse gases; its boot print is truly mega. Its impact will be long lasting and hugely costly.
The old truisms that ‘bombs kill ever before they explode’ and that ‘wars don’t end when soldiers come home’ once again ring true in the context of 9/11.
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