The Cost of War

On Thursday, I received news that a Marine from my former Company was KIA in Afghanistan. He was 25 years old.

Marine Corps warfighing doctrine emphasizes the psychological level of war. The true objective of combat operations is not to kill the enemy, but to break the enemy's willingness to fight. The former is just one of many means to the latter.

The attack on my unit was delivered by means of an SVBIED – a suicide-vehicle-borne improvised-explosive-device. This is one incident, but it seems to underscore this fact: after 18 years on Afghan soil, the United States has failed to undermine the enemy's resolve.

A trillion dollars and the most advanced weaponry in the world and 72,000 enemy KIA have failed to convince an LDC that it can aspire to better.

It's possible that numbers alone could have predicted this outcome. Divide the enemy combatants killed by the cost of OEF and the result is ~14,000,000 USD per head. The Taliban has inflicted only a fraction of its losses on the United States, but probably for orders of magnitude less in costs, too.

If we judged wars the way we judged businesses, perhaps the United States would have gotten out of Afghanistan years ago. Perhaps it would never have committed, or been smarter about its engagement, more precise about the problem it was seeking to address. In a way, the country was cursed, as is often the case, by its wealth. A poorer nation wouldn't have been able to afford a blank check.

But here we are. A family now mourns the loss of a son. In Afghanistan, there are families that have been mourning loss after loss after loss. Some Afghans fear what will happen when American troops finally depart. And I will never forget the footage of the jumpers on 9/11.

All this in a world where the Arctic ice is evaporating, and Antarctic ice shattering, and life, on the whole, vanishing. I wonder how we will judge this history in twenty or thirty years' time. Sooner or later, we are bound to have a moment of clarity.