Battle Anchors: The US Bills After The War

November 28, 2016 Dennis Ottley


The price tag for waging wars does not come cheap. Our response to the 9/11 attacks fifteen years ago—which triggered a series of military action in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and Afghanistan—had us coughed up $4 trillion (a figure recently confirmed by a project headed by the Brown University, focused on analyzing the costs of war). The same report indicated that the amount can climb as high as $7 trillion with compounded interest by the year 2053. It’s not only a substantial amount to be paid by generations of Americans, but also requires considerable time to pay off.

While it was not made clear how many civilian deaths resulted from our efforts, the dollar amount in terms of how much we spent and how much we lost were. Case in point: F16 warplanes. They cost about $20,000 per hour for pilots to drop bombs that would amount to at least another $20,000 per unit. The math will give you an idea on how much it would be if the government launches an air strike. It would cost around $80,000 to a $100,000 per strike. If we say that the average American earns about $50,000 every year, as confirmed by a 2015 survey from the Department of Numbers, then it means it would take another half of that earning to protect the same American from international threats. That equals to two working Americans’ combined annual income to protect one American daily.


The war I had fought in was anchored on a different bedrock. We went to war, World War II, in our role as the police of the world. It was a different time then. We were fighting on behalf of the rights of other sovereigns. In the power struggle that played out between two opposing political beliefs, we were on the winning side. General McArthur, one of the most prominent figures in our war playbook, spearheaded pre- and postwar missions in Asia. He was tasked to carry out operatives and protect the interest of our ally in the southern part of Korea, recognized as South Korea today, from the aggressive advances of the communist north. It was around the same time my orders for active duty came. My overseas military service commenced, and I found myself right at the heart of a political conflict. My book Remembering: (Korea: 1950–1953) bares real-time experiences and events that I’ve committed to memory.

Given the considerable time I’ve had to reflect on the sacrifices of war, I agree with those who think that war is necessary. But when the urgency of war dissolves and the reality of the aftermath begins, the reasons why we engaged in one becomes a distant blur. The numbers come to the fro. Roughly five million Americans served in the Korean War which incurred $3 billion in expenses. We are talking about a war from more than sixty years ago which we are still paying for today. In terms of outcome, our intervention did not succeed in uniting a nation. The Korea that we knew then is the same Korea that we know now—divided. No changes made, no boundaries rejoined. But it’s easy to reduce milestones into insignificance. The truth on why we do what we do in times of conflict is a matter of principle. We stand for equality. We strong-arm those who take advantage on the weak and those who promulgate injustice. When it comes to allies, we protect our own. Above all, we value freedom. It’s a currency that we vowed to uphold and will continue to do so until we are no longer Americans. It’s embedded in our DNA. We can’t win all wars; we can’t make all wrongs turn right. But we can, however, do what’s necessary to share the level of freedom that we once dreamed of. Now we dream for the rest of the world to have. If it comes with a price, we roll up our sleeves and create a solution. We soldier on.


Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. 2016. “Costs of War.” Last modified September 2016. Accessed October 31, 2016.

U.S. News & World Report. 2009. “War on Terror Could Be Costliest Yet.”  Last modified September 9, 2016. Accessed October 31, 2016.

Department of Numbers. “US Household Income.” Accessed October 31, 2016.


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