Students will:

  • Explore the human, economic, social, and political costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Consider how an analysis of the wars’ costs should influence current and future U.S. foreign policy.
  • Discuss the importance of public knowledge of the costs of war in a democracy.


The Costs of War Project

Handout—The Costs of War Project

Note: A selection of Scholars Online videos are incorporated into the lesson below. See a full list of Professor Lutz’s videos.

In the Classroom

1. Introduction

Begin class with a brief discussion of the recent U.S. wars. Why did the United States go to war in Afghanistan? Why did the United States go to war in Iraq? How has the United States been involved in the war in Pakistan? What were the United States’ goals in each country? What have been some of the costs and negative consequences of the wars? What have been some benefits or achievements of the wars?

2. Exploring the Costs of War

Tell students that a group of experts created the Costs of War Project to explore the domestic and international costs and consequences of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Inform students that they will explore the group’s findings. You may wish to show the following videos to introduce students to the project.

Catherine Lutz

What is the Costs of War Project?

Catherine Lutz

Why did you choose to calculate the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars together?

Catherine Lutz

What have been the largest costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?

Distribute the handout and break students into three groups. Tell students that they will work with their group members to explore the Costs of War website and record information on the handout. Assign one group to explore the human costs, one the economic costs, and one the social and political costs.

Note: The website is extensive and presents a large amount of information. Make your expectations clear to students. For example, you may instruct them to record the major points that they believe are most important, or to focus on one or two topics that they find most interesting.

3. Presentations and Class Discussion

Ask each group to report back to the class on their section of the website. Instruct students to take notes on their graphic organizer as their classmates share their findings. Encourage students to share their personal reactions to the Costs of War Project. What did students find most interesting or surprising? Were there costs that students had not thought of before?

According the Costs of War Project, how successful have the wars been in bringing democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan? In improving women’s rights? Do students think there are benefits of the war that were not included on website? For example, have the wars diminished the threat of terrorism? Improved U.S. security?

Do students think the United States has achieved its goals in Iraq and Afghanistan? Have the benefits of the wars been worth the costs? Do students believe the United States has a responsibility to address the range of issues presented by the Costs of War Project? What responsibility does the United States have to the child of a U.S. soldier that was killed? To an Iraqi merchant whose store was destroyed by U.S. bombing? To an Afghan infant born with a birth defect caused by toxic pollution from U.S. ammunition?

4. Looking Forward

Show the following videos to the class.

Catherine Lutz

Does the Costs of War Project have any recommendations for U.S. policy makers?

Catherine Lutz

Why is it important for high school students to understand the costs of the United States’ wars?

Professor Lutz says that “the American public should have more information about the wars that the United States fights…to have that information is really important in a democracy…we should know what is being done in our name…”

Do students agree or disagree with Professor Lutz? Do they believe the American public has a right to know more about the costs and consequences of wars their country wages? Do students believe that having accurate information is important in a democracy? If so, why? In the future when the United States considers using military force to address international problems, are there any lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that policy makers and the public should consider?

What are acceptable grounds, if any, for going to war? For invading and occupying another country? What costs are acceptable in human and financial terms?

What are the alternatives to military action?

Extra Challenge

  • Many sections of the website provide an option to download a full paper by the authors of the Costs of War Project. Have students read a paper to further explore one of the costs of war.
  • Encourage students to write a letter to members of Congress or a local newspaper. Students should express their views and recommendations on the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Students should provide examples or information from the Costs of War Project to support their arguments.
  • Assign students to compare the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to another war in U.S. history. The following video may be a useful starting point for further research.

Catherine Lutz

How are the Iraq and Afghanistan wars different from previous U.S. wars?

Photo-AP Photo/Karim Kadim

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