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First Person/Neta Crawford

Weighing the wars

BU political science professor Neta Crawford counts up costs and consequences.

(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Brian MacQuarrie
September 11, 2011

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>You recently helped found the Costs of War website [costsofwar.org], which tallies the human, economic, and social toll of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Why?

It was important that after 10 years of war, the United States and its people understand the consequences and the costs of the decisions that were made.

>How difficult was it to track down these numbers, and how transparent has the government been?

Some information is extremely difficult to obtain. For example, we have this drone war in Pakistan. The US government isn’t providing information; when there’s a dispute, the Pakistanis say something and nongovernmental organizations say another thing. The American people may see only one of these reports.

>At least 137,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to your estimates. Why don’t we hear more about this?

The short answer is that the American public cares about civilian casualties – they care deeply about killing women and children. We tend, however, not to worry so much if we think these killings are inadvertent. So, if the public believes that great care has been taken, it considers these deaths a natural part of war and [that] nothing can be done.

>Why haven’t the economic costs – which you gauge at up to $4 trillion – been a greater focus?

In every war, there’s a tendency to underestimate the costs for a number of reasons. People want to believe the war will be shorter than it often is or that the main cost is the [military] budget. But there are other things the United States is obliged to do, [such as] the cost of veterans’ care. I think every family who has a veteran is aware of the future burden.

>The research didn’t take a stance on the advisability of entering these wars – or on withdrawal. Why not? Democracy functions best, as Jefferson said, when people are educated. The public is understandably focused on other issues. We provided the information so there can be greater deliberation.