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The Decade in Review

The Decade in Review

Issue 64 January 2010

The first decade of the 21st Century was marked by violence, financial turmoil and climatic devastation. Sarah Joseph wonders,

 “Is there no other way this world can live?”


As the first decade of the millennium passes, I ponder on what might have been. A visit to the website is a sobering experience. When I was on the site, the counters showed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far cost America $941,648,693,057. Almost one trillion dollars and rising by $15million an hour. These numbers are difficult to comprehend. The money could have paid for 15m primary school teachers, or built seven million affordable housing units, or provided 270m people with health care. If that money had been invested in Iraq and Afghanistan, a modern society with advanced infrastructure would improve the lives of millions. Instead, all that money went up in smoke, with thousands dead and countless more lives destroyed.

The speech from five decades ago of Dwight Eisenhower, American soldier, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II, and 34th President of the United States, often comes to my mind. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed... We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat... Is there no other way the world may live?” 

The dawn of a new millennium brought so much hope. Hope that humanity had learnt its lesson and would shed itself of the burden of the 20th century with the two great wars that made it the bloodiest century in humanity’s history.

But lessons were not learnt. The new millennium was barely born when people who had forgotten all sense of humanity committed the atrocities of 9/11 and left over 3,000 dead. The US and her ally Britain responded with two wars that killed over 50 times that number.

Terrifyingly, the financial cost of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan are dwarfed by the cost of the financial crisis that gripped the world in this decade. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) put the total cost of the financial crisis at $11.9 trillion. This almost inconceivable figure includes the capital injections pumped into banks in order to prevent them from collapsing, the cost of absorbing toxic assets and the guaranteeing of debt for central banks. The staggering total amounts to around a fifth of the entire globe’s annual economic output. 

Some analysts have downplayed the crisis, saying the Depression of the 1930s was far worse for ordinary men and women. Other analysts have declared that ordinary people have yet to feel the true impact of the crisis. However, it is worth remembering that the decade that spawned the Great Depression was followed by the decade that brought the world its bloodiest war with an estimated 70m dead.

The negative narrative of war and economic crisis is matched only by the precipice we find ourselves perched on with regards to the planet that sustains us all. Ten years ago, global climate change seemed a problem of the long term. Yet, the past decade has clearly shown us the repercussions of our industrialisation and increased consumerism over the past century.

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