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The Costs of Freedom

A Hellfire missile on an unmanned Predator drone. (TSGT Scott Reed, U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia)

As Donald Trump’s plan to Make America Great Again unfolds, there is at least one thing he will not need to worry about because the United States is already greatest at it—spending the most money to kill people. With U.S. defense spending being more than that of the next seven countries combined, none of our competitors will be catching up to us anytime soon.

In this case, the greatness of the U.S. is beyond question and it comes at a cost—but that is the price we pay for our freedom. And no one can put a price on freedom.

But have any of you wondered: If you could put a price on freedom, what its cost would be? Or, in other words, how great exactly is the price of things like Hellfire missiles?

Recently, there has been a lot of whining and complaining in the U.S. about things like a lack of affordable health care and budget cuts to programs that feed hungry people. What these crybabies need to understand is that drone campaigns are not cheap. Seriously, how do these people expect the U.S. government to keep blowing up weddings in Yemen and make sure the basic needs of its people are met at the same time?

Hellfire Missile Price Tag: $110,000

In addition to being named in a way that leaves zero doubt that we are the good guys in this movie, the Hellfire missile has multi-mission, multi-target “precision-strike” abilities and can kill human beings from land, air and sea. Basic models of these laser-guided firecrackers use shaped-charge HEAT (high-explosive anti-tank) warheads, but upgraded models include blast fragmentation sleeves for bulk-murder and thermobaric warheads that suck the air out of Afghan caves and can even collapse buildings. Jointly made by Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, the Hellfire series has become the bread-and-butter missile for the modern helicopter- and drone-based killing industries.

Things Americans Could Afford Per Hellfire Missile and Drone Strike

The price of a Hellfire missile like the kind released by the MQ-9 Reaper in a U.S. drone strike is roughly equal to the yearly taxes paid by 74 wage-earning workers, with enough left over to buy a candy bar:

$110,000/$1,486 = 74.02

Reaper drones carry four Hellfire missiles, however, and the average number of weapons released in an airstrike in 2016 was 2.2, which means the price tag for one drone strike’s worth of Hellfire missiles is closer to $242,000.

To understand what a drone strike is, try to imagine the missiles as metal bags stuffed with the taxes of 163 workers being launched at a mosque in Pakistan. You can also think of them as 10 college degrees printed on a few oversized diplomas collapsing a building in Iraq or as an exploding version of the yearly compensation received by nine workers near the median income in the U.S.

Things Americans Could Afford Per Defense Budget for Hellfire Missiles

The $190.2 million or so spent by the Pentagon to purchase 1,729 Hellfire missiles in 2015 is equal to the cost of providing one year of housing for 19,807 homeless people, including utility subsidies and the salaries to pay one case manager for every 30 recipients:

1,729 Hellfire Missiles/Yearly Cost of Housing for the Homeless
$190,190,000/9,602 = 19,807.33 or 9,807 People Housed for 1 Year

And we would still have $3,186 left to buy a LG 75″ LED 4K ultra HD smart TV as a housewarming gift to one formerly homeless person, chosen by lottery. It would take a total of $248,558,282 to buy one for all of them, so—if we only have the defense budget for fiscal year 2015—the rest would need to buy their own.

But if we use fiscal year 2016 instead, there would be funds to buy 5,950 Hellfire missiles—and that, my friends, is a game-changer. With $654.5 million, we could buy housing for 19,807 people, subsidized utilities, and a 75″ smart TV in each unit—with nearly $406 million to spare. $216 million out of that can replace the 10,000 lead pipes in Flint, Mich., and the last $190 million would cover one month of groceries for every human being in San Francisco, plus another 20,000 or so in the suburbs.

5,950 Hellfire Missiles – Housing and Smart TVs for 19,807 People
$654,500,000 – $248,558,282 = $405,941,718
$405,941,718 – Replacing 10,000 Lead Pipes in Flint
$405,941,718 – $216,000,000 = $189,941,718
$189,941,718/Average Monthly Grocery Expenses
$189,941,718/$214.75 = 884,478.3 (Population of San Francisco: 864,816 )

But the cost of Reaper drones, Hellfire missiles and the human beings we erase when we use them are only tiny fractions of the price millions of people in the Middle East pay with their blood and that the U.S. demands of its people for what it keeps insisting is their freedom—whatever the hell that means.

John Laurits / JohnLaurits.com

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