U.S. Military Prodigal Spending and Peaceful Alternatives

March Against Iraq War in Los Angeles, many people holder anti-war posters
Flickr |Grey Barklay

Martin Luther King once famously said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on war, than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

With the wise words of the American civil rights movement leader in mind, let's consider the incomprehensible sum of $8 trillion. An amount so large that most of us don’t have a strong intuitive sense of how much bigger one trillion is, than one million. If we stacked $8 trillion in $100 notes on top of each other, the total height would be the equivalent of 5,429 miles – further than the entire length of the African continent, from the coast of Tunisia to the tip of South Africa!

A trillion dollars is a million dollars multiplied by a million.

It has 12 zeroes!!

That’s $8,000,000,000,000

The US military spent this figure over the course of 20 years funding its War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Let's not even go there with the jaw-dropping $20 trillion that covers ALL their wars in this time period)

Martin Luther King was inspired by the ideologies of Gandhi, and used nonviolent resistance to successfully advance progress towards equal rights for Black Americans. It brings us to ponder if human rights advocate MLK would consider this $8 trillion a successful advance, or indeed spiritual death.

Rather than musing for too long on the thoughts of a long-gone hero, we want to investigate what was actually achieved with this incredible sum over the 2 decades. Given all the facts, what would have been the wiser choice for such a huge spending spree? Was peace ever the end game, and who actually made (a lot of) money from this war?

It is common knowledge that lives, families, homes, and businesses are literally destroyed in wars, not to mention that catastrophic environmental consequences, and the human rights disasters that inevitably follow. For these reasons, war must be justified.

However, wars are slogans, advertisements, and posturing. The war in Afghanistan and Iraq was sold to American tax payers the same way cars, houses, and dreams are sold. Complete with a picture perfect happy smiling couple, 2 children, and a tail wagging dog.

In order to sell war, countries and politicians need enemies. They need to create fear and a sense of urgency to keep the military business alive and in full support of citizens. This is the justification.

USA flag with faded US army soldiers running across the front of it towards the top of the liberty statue
Pixabay | TammyatWTI


$8 Trillion Well Spent?

When we compare the amount of US military investment, with the amount of investment into peace building, the military astoundingly receives $1,000 for every $1 dedicated to peace efforts (not including UN efforts). If we include UN peacekeeping and military budget, the figure drops, but still only to 100:1. 

How can these figures be justified? It is incomparable. The stark difference between the two brings into question U.S. motive for the War on Terror. Was it ever to create long-lasting peace? It doesn’t take a genius to understand that war never brings peace, as we have seen time and time again across the globe. You reap what you sow. 

What we are actually seeing is the manifestation of the appetite for profit, power, and oil, driven by greed and fear. By bloating military budgets and spending tax payers' money to expand the military complex, the tax payer does not benefit. There are no social advantages to war. Success is only felt by the war industry and stock holders. 

In this situation, U.S. tax paying citizens have been scammed and robbed. The worst part is that they are left uninformed and blinded by a false flag. With bias media coverage, most citizens remain apathetic and ignorant to the true cost and consequences of war. They are being blindsided with photos of heroic patriotic soldiers taking down the badies - comic book style. Propaganda and misinformation play a huge role in the justification of wars, and in turn the wild military spending we have seen over the last two decades. 


$8 Trillion Spent Creating Havoc & Enemies 

Here is the shopping list that U.S. politicians don’t want you to see: 

  • 218,998 deaths of soldiers, military, contractors, troops and opposition fighters 

  • 256,148 civilian deaths (including journalists and aid workers) 

  • 15.1 million refugees created 

  • Hatred, bitterness, destruction, misery & despair 

  • 270% increase in the number of terrorists and Jihadists since 2001 and the creation of the forever war (source 1)

  • Corruption through mercenaries, crooks, warlords and drugs 

  • Lack of security, law, democracy and total removal of women's rights 

  • 1.8 million U.S. veterans registered disabled 

  • Education infrastructure destroyed, unimaginable social hardship 

  • Mass surveillance at home, loss of privacy and safety 

(Figures are for Afghanistan and Iraq only. Figures sourced from the Watson Institute Costs of War project unless otherwise stated) 

Several times these numbers have been killed as a long-term result of the war. The figures for civilians wounded and disabled as a direct result of the war are unavailable, however one thing that is agreed upon is that the number is simply enormous. 

This ‘shopping list’ created a disastrous humanitarian crisis for Afghan and Iraqi civilians and those in the bordering countries. The need for aid and redevelopment is overwhelming, meanwhile civilians grapple with hunger and scarce access to water. The war actually resulted in even more money being spent - cleaning up their own mess! 

Destroyed wall of a school in Afghanistan where students have hung their jackets and parked their bicycles
Word Press | United Nations Photo

Through fear, poverty, lack of safe shelter, food, water and healthcare, there are monumental numbers of internally displaced people and refugees in Pakistan and now, globally. Families and businesses were quite literally destroyed. They now face a daily struggle just to survive. Women and children bear the brunt of the crisis, and are always the first to lose their basic human rights. 

But these people are just pictures we see in newspapers, these people are far away from our own troubles. So, let's bring it home. Let's talk about US soldiers, the very people who under governmental instruction, and a sense of great do-gooding, patriotism, and excellent pension packages were the heroes sent off to slay the dragon. 

13.5% of which are now left grappling with PTSD (NCBI, 2016), and devastatingly, veterans now account for 20% of all suicides in the US (NCBI, 2016). It turns out that four times as many U.S. soldiers have died by suicide than in combat during the post 9/11 wars. Military career prospects don’t seem so appealing when we look at the figures. The 8,000 members of Veterans for Peace would surely agree. 

The War on Terror or War is Terror? 

Attempting to put a positive spin on the $8 trillion wasted, ahem, spent. Who exactly were the winners in this war? The Pentagon contractors and weapons makers certainly. Also, numerous corporations, shareholders, the financial elite, and even the mass media benefited financially. Through carefully scripted speeches and global media campaigns, the US was portrayed as a strong powerful country. This image alone was enough for the world to justify the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks, and the money that was siphoned from tax payers, and pumped in the war industry. 


$8 Trillion Spent Winning Friends  

Hypothetically, if we could turn back time, and turn our backs on war profiteers and greed, what could have been achieved by the U.S. instead? 

Below we argue for an alternate reality where spending was motivated primarily by peace. This is what an $8 trillion spending spree could look like: 

  • The salary for 1 million teachers and 1.25 million nurses in the U.S. for 8 years 

  • 1 million peace workers sent for nonviolent conflict resolution into regions like Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel & Palestine for 12 years 

  • U.S. budget for renewable energy and efficiency for 200 years 

  • U.S. international development aid (covering the total UN budget) for 13 years 

  • Provide ALL children on Earth with enough food, basic medical care, primary education and clean water for 13 years 

  • Pay the entire UN peacekeeping budget for 50 years 

  • Finance both UNICEF and the WHO for 100 years 

ALL OF IT!!!! 

This $8 trillion could have paid for ALL of this, with some change left over! Additionally, in developing countries such as Afghanistan, the money would go even further, with the potential to pay for 20 times as many teachers and nurses! 

(Figures taken from original article by Dr N. Stute at Better World Links archive 'Financial Costs of War')

Female US Army worker hands boxes of school supplies over to a student
Word Press | The U.S. Army


U.S. Priorities

You may have heard of Covid-19. The tragic global pandemic which has affected quite literally every corner of the world. The news media has relentlessly covered the developments for 2 years, and rightly so. We have lost loved ones, we have seen medical workers burning out under the immense stress placed upon them. Hospitals buckling under pressure, patients left untreated in hallways on the floor, and bodies lining the streets.

As of October 2021, the USA has reported 701,000 deaths (Our World in Data) resulting directly from the virus.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dedicated $4.6 trillion (USA Spending.gov) to the fight against Covid-19. Very little of this money was sent to fund the World Health Organization who were focusing on pandemic preparedness and prevention. Infact, under the Trump administration the U.S. actually suspended all funding, and formally withdrew its membership. Would a better use of tax payers' money have focused on prevention, rather than lining the pockets of private PPE companies? We leave that for you to decide.

In comparison, the number of deaths resulting directly from the 9/11 terror attacks was 2,996 – This prompted the start of the US War on Terror.

Yet $8 trillion, almost double the Covid-19 response, was committed to the US military budget.

If we break it down to the amount of money spent for each life lost, the number of zeros speak for themselves.

War against covid: $4.7 trillion / 701,000 lives = $6,704,707

$6.7 million spent per life lost

War in Afghanistan/Iraq: $8 trillion / 2,996 lives = $2,670,226,969

$2.6 billion spent per life lost

It goes without saying that every death under both circumstances is truly tragic, but why commit so much more resources to an event which pales in comparison to the global Covid-19 pandemic?

In terms of the number of deceased, Covid-19 is the equivalent of 9/11 happening 234 times!

There is no arguing that the military funding for the 9/11 terror attacks is grossly out of proportion.


If the US Won the War, Who Lost?

The short and simple answer is: Citizens always lose!

In the conflict country, in this case, Afghanistan and Iraq, citizens become victims of war. Their lives are surrounded by violence, death, and fear. They are forced to leave their homes. Education and work become impossible. Assets become worthless, and health care systems collapse. Water supply becomes compromised due to infrastructural damage or contamination. Farming systems collapse, and food supplies are cut off.

Women’s and children’s rights are always forgotten. They suffer at the hands of soldiers, even becoming victims of rape. Ultimately quality of life is reduced to the point where basic needs cannot be met neither internally, nor through aid channels.

From the U.S. perspective, citizens were promised safety, a life free from terrorists, and the sense of pride that comes with defeating your enemy. What they actually got was a huge drain on resources as tax money was flooded into the Pentagon. Common social needs such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure, were put on the backburner – to the point where Americans suffer from the highest rate of inequality of all the G7 nations.

The U.S. is suffering with spiralling poverty and homelessness, colleges and universities are spawning students with crippling debts, the police department is consistently under fire for a culture of racism and brutality, access to healthcare continues to only be available to those who can pay, and the U.S. welfare system fails to meet the basic needs of those most vulnerable.

Mural on a wall of politicians and soldiers hugging weapons infront of a school and unemployment office which are now closed
Flickr | Paul Sableman

The promise of safety and freedom from terrorists was also never met. Infact, the war on terror actually created more terrorists than there were before! The Washington based centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) estimated that in 2018 the number of active terrorist groups was 67 – its highest number since 1980. Individual fighter numbers have shown a 270% increase since 2001. In the chaos of war, poor governance and corruption, a breeding ground for recruitment and radicalisation was created.

On top of all of this, there has been an exponential growth of Islamophobia that continues to haunt American Muslim and Arab communities. Hate crimes spiked after the 9/11 attacks, as mosques and individuals became the targets of anger – a devastating consequence of fear mongering. Discrimination to this day has not waned.



We have seen time and time again, in numerous conflict regions that war does not create peace. When presented with all the facts, which option would you chose?

Better World Info actively stands up for peace, against war movements, the buildup of massive arms stockpiles, and outrageous military budgets. On their website you can find extensive information on peace NGOs and movements to support. You can find protests to join, petitions to sign, and ways to campaign online. You will also find a huge resource featuring the military, including a country-by-country guide, a multi-perspective view on NATO, detailed information on the deadly arms trade, and an eye-opening feature on nuclear weapons.

You will also find an excellent resource providing unique, unbiased coverage of the ongoing Ukraine conflict - a must read!

The website serves as an excellent platform for peace activists, and as a central knowledge hub for global issues in general. By educating ourselves, we can reduce ignorance and hate in the world, and stop lining the pockets of multi-millionaire war profiteers. Help us to spread the word, avoid corporate media, and stick to reliable independent news sources. Use Better World Info, be the light in the face of spiritual death, and join the peace movement today.


Article by Dr N. Stute and Rachael Mellor.

The thoughts of the above blog were originally presented by Dr N Stute as part of a peace conference in London back in 2014. The original visionary article from January 2003 on which this was based can be found here.

U.S. Military Prodigal Spending by Dr N. Stute and Rachael Mellor is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0



1. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210826-total-failure-the-war-on-terror-20-years-on


Image 1: "March Against Iraq War - Los Angeles" by grey_barklay is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image 2: “Untitled Image” by tammyatWTI is published under Pixabay License

Image 3: “Afghan students back to school” by “United Nations” is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image 4: “School supplies” by “The U.S. Army” is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image 5: "Closed due to Military Budget" by pasa47 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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