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Long overdue: counting just one of all the unacceptable costs of war

In 2004. Mark Tully (New Delhi) inspired a report counting the costs of our economic system. Molly Scott Cato made a major contribution to the report and obliquely supplies an answer to the madness of embarking on military ventures: ‘Counting is what capitalism is good at, what it thrives on. Counting is what the accountants and management consultants do, and they now decide how businesses and indeed government should be run”.

Warfare is undoubtedly good for the aggressors’ business, whether it be through manufacturing arms, securing resources or seeking contracts to rebuild damaged infrastructure.

harry patch quote

A reader sent a link to an account by Guardian journalists Simon Hattenstone and Eric Allison which counted just one of the costs of warfare: post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other costs include:

  • the social and economic cost of diverting resources to warfare,
  • the environmental damage done by warfare
  • and the human and infrastructural devastation in the attacked countries.

Simon Hattenstone and Eric Allison report that in 2009, the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) recorded 8,500 veterans serving sentences in UK prisons, and a further 11,500 on probation or parole and estimated that half of veterans in prison had depression or PTSD (compared with 23% of the male prison population). They give accounts of several cases of former soldiers eventually diagnosed with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

Denial and delay by the MoD keeps costs down

Those diagnosed with combat-related PTSD are entitled to a disablement pension, while victims of the crime could also potentially claim compensation. Between 2005 and March 2014, 1,390 claims were awarded under the Armed Forces and Reserve Forces Compensation Scheme for mental disorders (including PTSD). The NAPO figures indicate that half of the former soldiers currently on probation or in prison (at least 4000-at most 10,000) could make a case for compensation, as could any victims attacked by them.

In America, 20% of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have been diagnosed with PTSD; in 2011, 476,514 veterans were treated for it. At least 191,000 soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, so according to the estimate made by forensic psychiatrist Dr Deirdre MacManus, in the next decade or so there could be more than 13,000 ex-service personnel returning from combat zones with mental health problems.

The British criminal justice system should learn from America, where veterans who are arrested are put through a different legal process and given access to psychiatrists, psychologists and lawyers who specialise in combat-related PTSD.

Above all, Britain and America should learn from Bruce Kent and Harry Patch: abolish war – it is barbaric, destructive, wasteful and futile.