The application of overwhelming firepower in lieu of alternative tactics has long been the American way of fighting a war. In World War II, U.S. factories cranked out, along with mountains of other munitions, about 41.4 billion rounds of small-arms ammunition, enough to permit the users to take about ten shots at every man, woman, and child alive on earth at that time. Military historians tell us that the U.S. warriors actually concentrated their fire somewhat, so some of the earth's inhabitants were spared exposure to that particular risk.
Among the many fiscal measures for which mainstream economists can credit the current Bush administration, we may count a tremendous stimulation of the demand for ammunition as much a blessing in bulking up the GDP as purchases of any other final good, they insist. According to a July 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office, "[b]etween fiscal years 2000 and 2005, total requirements [per year] for small caliber ammunitions more than doubled, from about 730 million to nearly 1.8 billion rounds, while total requirements for medium caliber ammunitions increased from 11.7 million rounds to almost 22 million rounds."
Most of the U.S. forces' small-arms ammunition is manufactured by contractor Alliant Techsystems (ATK), which operates a government-owned plant located near Independence, Missouri. In 2004, however, ATK's 1.2 billion cartridges fell short of the government's demand. Army Major Gen. Buford Blount III stated, "We're shooting it almost as fast as they can produce it." As an emergency measure to help make up the shortfall, the government also contracted with Winchester Ammunition (a division of Olin Corporation) and Israel Military Industries, Ltd.
The latter contract did not strike everyone as a shrewd move. At a congressional hearing, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), a member of the House Armed Services subcommittee overseeing the matter, addressed Army Brig. Gen. Paul Izzo, executive officer of the ammunition program: "Can you tell me whose idea it was to contract with a firm in Israel to provide ammunition to kill Muslims? I've never heard of anything so goddamned stupid." To allay Abercrombie's anxiety, Izzo and Blount promised to use the ammo produced in Israel only for training purposes and to employ only good old American-made ammo for killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan. As reporter Katherine McIntire Peters remarks, this "distinction . . . likely has more resonance among lawmakers than among those on the receiving end of the ammunition."
By the end of 2005, the Army had established an acquisition strategy for purchasing as many as 2 billion rounds of small-caliber ammunition annually and brought in a second domestic prime contractor, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, to supply the government with 300 million rounds annually from its plant in St. Petersburg, Florida. With ATK producing 1.2 billion rounds per year and modernizing its plant to produce as many as 1.5 billion, the Army's overall acquisition settled at about 1.8 billion rounds annually.
For the four fiscal years 2002-2005, the military's small-arms ammunition "requirements" totaled nearly 5.6 billion rounds. With approximately 3.6 billion being added during the next two years, the total for fiscal years 2002-2007 comes to about 9.2 billion rounds. If we assume that U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have killed 50,000 people with small-arms fire (a high estimate, I suspect), then they have needed, for training plus actual fighting, 184,000 bullets per person killed. If they have killed only 30,000 in this way, then the figure rises to almost 307,000 bullets per person shot dead, which is roughly equal to the estimate Pike ventured two years ago before he decided to "round that down to 250,000 so that we are underestimating."
If we assume that only 3 billion of the 9.2 billion small-caliber rounds consumed by U.S. forces during the past six fiscal years were fired in combat in Iraq, then, given an Iraqi population of approximately 27 million in recent years, the rate of U.S. small-arms fire during the present war works out to more than 100 shots for every man, woman, and child in the country, or more than ten times what the world's population received per capita from U.S. forces during World War II.
Where do all those high-powered bullets go? Is it any wonder that check-point foul-ups so often end with the innocent occupants of a vehicle, many of them women and children, being shot dead, or that exchanges of gunfire in urban settings take such a toll in persons killed or wounded by stray shots from American guns? Iraqis have complained repeatedly since the occupation began that U.S. troops have itchy trigger fingers and react wildly to attacks, real or imagined, by firing their automatic weapons almost at random into the surrounding area. Combining tense, frightened solders, massive firepower, and densely inhabited neighborhoods does not make for a safe environment.
Moreover, not to belabor a point, but I do hope the reader will remember that we are considering here only small-arms fire, to which in any realistic account of the war we must add the expenditure of enormous quantities of medium and heavy bullets, mortar and artillery shells, rockets, and bombs, along with a substantial amount of old-fashioned pummeling with boot heels, rifle butts, and assorted other clubs. The Iraqis have not been lying in a bed of roses for the past 52 months.
Unfortunately, the future does not appear to hold much relief for them, and many, many more are destined to perish in the lethal thunderstorms of U.S. bullets, shells, and bombs. Why, we might wonder, must this madness continue? What good can it possibly accomplish? When Congressman Abercrombie told Gen. Izzo that he had "never heard of anything so goddamned stupid" as buying ammo manufactured in Israel for use by U.S. military forces in killing Muslims, he might well have weighed his words more carefully, because at least one thing has been manifestly even stupider: invading Iraq in the first place.
Charles V. Peña is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute as well as a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, and an adviser on the Straus Military Reform Project.
William Ratliff is Adjunct Fellow at the Independent Institute, Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and a frequent writer on Chinese and Cuban foreign policies.
Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Full Biography and Recent Publications
Jonathan J. Bean is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the forthcoming book, Race and Liberty: The Classical Liberal Tradition of Civil Rights.
Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute. He earned
his bachelor's degree in American history from the University of California
at Berkeley and gave the undergraduate history commencement speech in
2003. In addition to his work with the Independent Institute, he regularly
writes for numerous news and commentary web sites, including LewRockwell.com,
Future of Freedom Foundation, and the Rational Review.
Dominick T. Armentano is professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford (Connecticut) and a research fellow at The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. He is author of Antitrust & Monopoly (Independent Institute, 1998).
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is director of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute. He is a native of Peru and received his B.S.C. in international history from the London School of Economics. He is widely published and has lectured on world economic and political issues including at the Mont Pelerin Society, Naumann Foundation (Germany), FAES Foundation (Spain), Brazilian Institute of Business Studies, Fundación Libertad (Argentina), CEDICE Foundation (Venezuela), Florida International University, and the Ecuadorian Chamber of Commerce. He is the author of the Independent Institute books The Che Guevara Myth and Liberty for Latin America. Full biography and recent publications.
Gabriel Roth is a transport and privatization consultant and a research fellow at the Independent Institute, where he is editing a book on private-sector roles in the provision of roads, Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads.
Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute,
author of Against Leviathan and Crisis and Leviathan, and editor of the
scholarly quarterly journal, The Independent Review. Click
here for a bio on Dr. Higgs, the noted economist and historian.
William Marina is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus of History at Florida Atlantic University.
T. Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, Associate
Professor of History at the University of Alabama, and co-editor of
the book, The
Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society.
For further information, see the Independent Institutes book on wasteful farm programs, Agriculture and the State: Market Processes and Bureaucracy, by Ernest C. Pasour, Jr.