Another way to get at the $1 trillion cost of the Iraq War is to note that the Treasury could have used the money to mail a check for more than $3,000 to every man, woman and child in the United States. The latter alternative would have an added benefit: Uniformly distributed and spent in this country, the money would have provided an economic stimulus that the war expenditures have not.
Alternatively, if the money was spent in an even more ecumenical way and a global mailing list was available, the Treasury could have sent a check for more than $150 to every human being on earth. The lives of millions of children, who die from nothing more serious than measles, tetanus, respiratory infections and diarrhea, could be saved, since these illnesses can be prevented by $2 vaccines, $1 worth of antibiotics, or a 10-cent dose of oral rehydration salts as well as the main but still very far from prohibitive cost of people to administer the programs.
There are also more fanciful ways to induce a visceral feel for $1 trillion.
For example, it would take almost three decades to spend a trillion dollars at $1,000 per second, and if spending at this rate occurred only during business hours, more than 120 years would be required to dispense the sum.
Another time analogy is illuminating. A million seconds takes approximately 11.5 days to tick by, whereas a billion seconds requires about 32 years. Fully 32,000 years need to pass before a trillion seconds elapse.
Of course, some might argue that the $1 trillion expenditure in Iraq has made us both more secure domestically and more respected internationally than ever before. Perhaps as many as a dozen people agree with Cheney's recent hallucinatory comment that "we've had enormous successes, and we will continue to have enormous successes" in Iraq."
At times, it seems that the nightmare and expense of these enormous successes will continue for the next trillion seconds.
John Allen Paulos, a professor of mathematics at Temple University, has written such best-sellers as "Innumeracy" and "A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market." His "Who's Counting?" column on ABCNEWS.com appears the first weekend of every month.