The costs of war

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 31, 2003

Any war comes with a steep price, and Operation Iraqi Freedom is no different. While victory may be certain, it will be hollow if the ultimate cost is too high. There are, of course, the physical costs, measured in casualties, and the accompanying hardship and grief for both sides.

Wednesday brought word of the first Alabamian to be killed in the war. Pfc. Howard Johnson II, 21, of Mobile was identified as among the soldiers killed Sunday when their 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed in central Iraq.

"He was God's gift to us, and the Lord has taken him away," said Johnson's father, the Rev. Howard Johnson, explaining that he and his wife, Gloria, had waited 17 years for a son. "We had no idea war would break out and we would lose our son," a tearful Mrs. Johnson said.

The Johnson family, of course, isn't the only family hurting. Others also have gotten news that a son or a daughter has paid the ultimate price in the war to rid the world of the murderous tyrant Saddam Hussein and his evil regime.

Casualties lives lost and maimed are the war's highest and most difficult costs to accept. But there's also a literal price for the war, in dollars and cents.

President Bush sent a $75 billion bill to Congress to pay for the Iraq war or a month's worth of war, anyway. It's a price tag that surely will grow, especially if the war doesn't end as quickly as hoped.

The United States, however, has spent much more on defense in past years, even when not at war.

Considering the size of the U.S. economy, the nation spent 9.2 percent of the gross domestic product on defense in 1962; in 1986, the nation spent 6.2 percent of GDP on defense. Total defense spending this year, including the $75 billion for the Iraq war, is 4 percent.

These costs are not unreasonable, considering that the world is certain to be a safer place once Saddam's regime is exterminated.

Look only at the actions of Saddam's "soldiers" during the first few days of the war to understand how vile and desperate this regime is:

Members of the Republican Guard, dressed as U.S. soldiers, have lured regular Iraqi soldiers into surrender, only to execute them when they give up. Of course, these thugs are hoping to frighten other Iraqis from surrendering.

The Iraqi military shot mortars into crowds of civilians in Basra to suppress a popular uprising.

Iraqi troops used a hospital as a location from which to stage military operations. U.S.

soldiers also discovered hundreds of weapons and chemical suits at the hospital. More frequently, U.S. and coalition soldiers are reporting women and children being used as human shields on the field of battle.

This war will cost a lot of money, at a time when the nation is running a deficit. It will cost many lives, perhaps thousands, before it ends. Families will have to worry. And many families, like that of Pfc. Howard Johnson II, will grieve.

Still, Americans have demonstrated that the high cost of freedom is worth bearing.

The Birmingham News

March 27, 2003