Cost-Benefit Analyses for Open and Closed Fists

by Tom H. Hastings

Here comes the 4th of July and we are barely done with Memorial Day. The flags of nationalistic patriotic fervor sprout and resprout across the land, in the parks, on the lawns, on billboards, on the Internet, and generally everywhere. Military jets will fly in formation, anthems will fill the air, and military uniforms will be ubiquitous. Little children are getting used to this, and they never see the adults they trust question this, so they come to trust the guns, the songs about bombs, the valorization of violence, and the equation of killing with freedom.

But there are a few costs to the war system, and there are alternatives to it.

Cost Accounting

In case we haven’t noticed, the military draws about $1 million per second, 24-7-365, producing nothing consumable, just using, just consuming, just taking, taking, taking. The economic costs to the taxpayers are stupendous. It is a welfare system for warriors, but those warriors tell us they take care of our security. Really? Our economy is radically insecure, our ecology is insecure, and our oceans are rising. Would it help to nuke the banks? To shoot bullets into the waves encroaching from the seas? It might be nice to load up the aircraft carriers and submarines and all other warships with the tanks and bombs and guns, sail them over the BP gusher, take all the people off, and use the remaining missiles to shoot holes in the hulls. Maybe we could plug the leak with the help of the military after all. The national security issues at hand are simply not solvable by the military. And our costs overseas are tremendous for others too.

Colonialism drove Iraq crazy, Saddam’s version didn’t help much, but the 2003 invasion and the long occupation has gone through national trauma, suicide attempts and an underlying depression that pervades civil society. Isn’t this a version of what all societies do when foreigners invade and control them?

For the 30 million Iraqis, many with totally predictable mental health issues, there are about 100 psychiatrists. The downward spiral of punishment, lashback and depression we’ve heaped upon an already burdened people has produced a country that will take decades to recover.

What Do We Get for Our Money?

That violence. A real problem-solver. Brings democracy to your door – then throws it aside, blows the door off the hinge, lets your old enemies in to kill your son and ravage your daughter, burns down your house, pollutes your water, beats your wife and expects gratitude. Violence expects worshipful adoration for inflicting the worst humiliation and torture. Violence demands a huge chunk of all you produce, whether you are in the victim nation or the perpetrator nation.

Then, when someone promotes nonviolence, they are chided and challenged, yeah sure, tell us how that would work against Marcos, Milosevic, the KKK, apartheid, or the gulag commies who ran the Warsaw Pact countries? Oh–that’s right, that’s how they were all defeated, with almost no one’s house burned down, water polluted, taxes seized, wife beaten, sons killed, or people driven insane.

It is so past time to redefine conflict management, democracy, and most of all, enlightened self-interest. Run a reasonably accurate cost-benefit analysis and you get the same replicable result: violence is a loser and nonviolence, for all its challenges, is the best approach.

Now if we could get it merely a thousandth of the funding that violence gets we could afford a new flag with a peace sign.  Φ

Tom H. Hastings is Director of the PeaceVoice Program of the Oregon Peace Institute and a member of the Portland State University Conflict Resolution faculty. You can contact him at 503-725-9173 or He blogs at

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