James Madison warned that “of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded.”
Because it comprises and develops the germ of every other enemy of liberty.
“War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.”
Taxation not only steals our wealth; it limits our freedom. Access to fewer resources shrinks the number of options available to us. The more the government takes from us, the more limited our options become.
Madison understood that it costs a lot of money to wage war. And somebody has to pay for it. The federal government doesn’t have any money of its own. Every dollar it spends eventually has to take from the people – either through direct taxation or the inflation tax as the Federal Reserve prints money to monetize the national debt.
After a 20-year unconstitutional war, the U.S. pulled troops out of Afghanistan. Within weeks, the Taliban had seized control of the country.
How much did this debacle cost?
According to the Cost of War Project by the Watson Institute at Brown University, the U.S. spent $2.26 trillion on the war in Afghanistan. That comes to over $300 million spent every single day over the span of two decades.
This includes direct Department of Defense spending for the war totaling $933 billion, State Department outlays for “nation-building” totaling $59 billion, base construction and maintenance costs of $443 billion, money spent caring for Afghanistan veterans totaling $296 billion, and the estimated interest payments for war borrowing totaling $530 billion.
And what did we get for our $2.26 trillion?
And consider the loss of life.
According to the Cost of War report, between 238,000 and 241,000 people died in Afghanistan over the past two decades as a direct result of the war. That number includes 71,344 civilians, 2,442 U.S. military personnel, and 549 humanitarian aid workers, along with thousands of Afghan military and police personnel.
As Madison said, there are other intangible costs we can’t even calculate.
We’ve seen a massive expansion of executive power. In 20 years of pursuing the “war on terror,” the federal government has trampled the Constitution, ignored the limits on presidential war powers, expanded the surveillance state, claimed the authority to detain Americans on American soil without due process, and heaped piles of additional debt on the people. Not to mention the fact that the U.S. government diverted $2.26 trillion in resources to waging war – money that could have funded economic growth in the private sector. Who knows what the economy could have produced had all of that money not been funneled into making bombs and killing people.
On top of all this, pile on the social cost, or as Madison put it, “the degeneracy of manners and of morals.”
When you add up all the costs, the final sum is a loss of liberty. Madison summed it up,
“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
You can’t have limited government and perpetual war. The founders understood this and created a system that would make it difficult to drag the United States into military entanglements. Having unfettered itself from its constitutional restraints, war has become the default position for the U.S. government. And we have all paid the price. These undeclared wars have cost countless lives, trillions of dollars in treasure and have eroded our liberties here at home, just as James Madison predicted.
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