Ep. 039: Stephanie Savell: The Costs of War

Ep. 039: Stephanie Savell: The Costs of War


"What they saw was that there really is very little conversation in the United States about the many costs and consequences of these post 9/11 wars. Huge financial costs, in my mind, this is kind of the biggest story that no one talks about in the United States today."

Stephanie Savell

First and foremost, I am a fierce mother.

While I’ve had my challenges in life, mostly I've been blessed.

But I’m worried about my kids, grandkids -- all of our kids.

Recently we had one of the hottest heat waves ever here in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City where I live. I escaped to the relative coolness of the woods and pitched a tent, but there really was no escape. The forest, the ground, the trees, the critters, all of us were just plain HOT.

My thoughts drifted to what life will be like for our kids in 30 years, and their kids and kids in 100. I cried, and swore to the trees. And then I got re-focused to what I can do to make a difference. This podcast is my antidote to despair.

As an intervener in complex systems, I was heavily trained in gestalt theory. One simple and yet important tool us gestalters use is “figure/ground” analysis. When scanning the landscape, is there a tree that stands out in the forest? When scanning a complex system with “soft eyes”, what smacks you in the face?

Scanning our planetary system right now, what "smacks me in the face" is climate change. Two other big "trees" that catch my attention are:

--that the United States, my country, spends more on the military than the next 7 countries combined (maybe even 10 -- I hear different numbers) and,

--that women are waking up all over the planet and, along with enlightened men, changing the conversation around gender.

If you listen to this podcast, you know that I and many of my guests believe these phenomenon are related.

It's for this reason, that I had been looking for someone to talk about military spending even though it's not exactly the niche of this podcast. I initially found an NBC reporter, William Arkin, a longtime war and military reporter, who had resigned in protest of the extent to which the mainstream media are in bed with the military industrial complex, but changed course when I learned about Stephanie Savell from the Costs of War project at Brown University. I asked Stephanie, a millennial woman with deep knowledge on the topic of US military spending, to direct her comments to her fellow millenials, Gen Z and beyond, those who will be most affected by what is currently happening.

When Stephanie tells people about her work at parties, she gets "crickets". It seems, she says to be "the biggest story in the United States that no one wants to talk about."

Run by three women, The Costs of War project, is one of the lone academic centers that is tracking just how much the United States has spent on the military after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, and just how effective, or ineffective those expenditures have been.

As she concludes, our "war on terror" has not been effective at stopping terrorism – not even close. It has not made us safer, not reduced incidents of terrorism, but rather has increased them".

It has also made a few people and organizations extremely wealthy.

One thing I learned that especially surprised me is that the "war on terror" is mortgaging our children's future as it's being paid for on a credit card. Stephanie explains that we currently spend $.57 of every dollar on the military but that slice of the pie will only increase in the future to pay off the trillions of dollars of debt we will owe.

Those of us in the conflict resolution field are well-aware that conflict is created by frustrated needs. While listening to Stephanie it dawned on me how the debt service will freeze out anything else we as a country might need or want to spend our money on -- frustrating needs, creating conflict, inviting authoritariansm to manage it.

We can do so much better than this. The absence of peace is just a failure of imagination.

I recently came back from the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic where I was delivering Negotiation and Conflict Resolution programs. My clients invited me to create a program specifically for women peacekeepers which I'm really excited about. (Sign up here for our blog on Women, Negotiation and Power to learn more).

From the perspective of CAR, the US seems like such a relative isolated island of peace and prosperity -- the envy of many in the world. But, as Stephanie tells us, we have boots on the ground in 80 countries, and are using our military often to support increased authoritarianism around the world -- not the democracy we like to be known for.

I also just completed my bi-annual intercultural negotiation program for NASA and space partners, concurrent with the 50th anniversary celebration at the Apollo mission. Those first, amazingly beautiful photos of our fragile blue pearl were so transformative to human awareness about the wild reality of our existence. More than anyone, astronauts know about the interdependence of the entire planet and see first hand how, when a storm whips up in Africa, red earth settles in Houston, Texas.

We have two basic choices.

We can to increasingly learn to collaborate with each other -- partner, celebrate difference, innovate, create a more pleasurable human existence from the intimate to the global.

Or, we can pursue throwback models of domination, control, pain, and coercion.

For my kids and grandkids I hope we choose the first.

Find Stephanie Savell’s bio and show notes here.

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