The Cost in Dollars, Democracy, and Memory

By Peter Price 3-04-2008

The Cost of War

The Iraq war has cost lives. Perhaps this is such an obvious statement that many will wonder why it has been made. It has cost lives of military personnel, many thousands of civilians in the immediate theatre of war, as well as lives of insurgents. It has even cost lives away from the war zone. In 13 African countries the rise in oil prices - which may be directly attributed to the war - resulted in loss of income, more than off-setting the increases in foreign aid. Nobel Peace Prize laureate and economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates the cost of the war worldwide as $6 trillion. Such sums indicate the loss of lives through failure to invest in education, healthcare, and housing across the world. It is estimated that for $1 trillion eight million housing units could have been built, health care funded for 530 million children for a year, or 15 million school teachers trained. Had such investment been made in the breeding grounds of terrorism, many of the causes of conflict could have been addressed.

The war has cost democracy. The 2 million people who opposed the war represented a political pressure group never seen before in the UK. Suspicion was raised over the evidence for the need for war. Democracies thrive only when truth is told, however unpalatable. A loss of confidence in government is always dangerous in democracies. The war has placed real strains upon people's confidence in government.

The war has cost us our memory. While opposing the war, it has always seemed right to support men and women and their families who fight on behalf of their country. The loss of young lives - while leading to many moving services of remembrance at a local level - has led to little public recognition of the cost of laying down life for the country. Life is the only thing we really possess. Laying it down for others requires that both the cause and the end are perceived as worthy. Many are left to mourn their loved ones. Many question the cost. Many more of us simply forget and carry on with our lives.

Jesus promised blessing to peacemakers. More than one hundred references exist in respect of peacemaking in the New Testament. It is the supreme goal of the kingdom of God. It is the 'good news' of the angels at Bethlehem. It is the intention of Christ who came to make peace. The cost of the Iraq war is great. The cost of making peace is greater. It took the life of the Son of Man; and it has taken the lives of countless men and women through the ages who have opposed war and striven for peace in obedience to the gospel. No Christian is immune from this struggle. There is no cause greater or more urgent. Think peace, pray peace, act peace.

Rt. Rev. Peter Price is the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Church of England.

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