Here’s the Cost of War for Each Major Conflict in America’s 239-Year History

Money Morning Contributor

U.S. President Barack Obama shocked when he announced on Thursday he will keep a larger military presence in Afghanistan than he’d planned. Originally, Obama stated only 1,000 soldiers would remain there by the time he left office. The backtrack sparked hot debate among Dems and their Republican counterparts…

cost of war
You see, the cost of war has been increasingly in the spotlight as the 2016 presidential election heats up. According to the most recent poll (released by Quinnipiac University on July 28), five out of the nine most important issues voters say will decide their vote in the 2016 general election are tied to American war spending:

  • Economy and jobs (#1 issue)
  • Terrorism (#3 issue)
  • Foreign Policy (#4 issue)
  • Federal Deficit (#7 issue)
  • Taxes (#8 issue)

Now, whether you’re for or against war spending, we can agree wars are expensive. As of April this year, the U.S. federal government had spent or obligated a combined $4.4 trillion on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, according to the Watson Institute. That figure includes Congressional war appropriations, war-related increases to the Pentagon and Homeland Security budgets, veteran care, foreign assistance, and interest payments on direct war borrowing.

Post-9/11 conflicts have proven to be among the most expensive wars in U.S. history. Five years ago, the Library of Congress issued a Congressional Research Service report that calculated the cost of each major American war since the country was founded on July 4, 1776.

Library of Congress Defense Policy and Budgets Specialist Stephen Daggett presented each cost of war figure in the CRS report in inflation-adjusted dollars. He also calculated the war cost’s percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the peak year of each conflict.

According to that report – which only took into account figures through 2010 – post-9/11 wars, combined, are the most expensive in U.S. history.

Here’s a look at the cost of each major American war, adjusted for inflation, according to Daggett’s report…

Cost of War for Every Major U.S. Conflict

War Years of War Spending Total Military Cost of War in Millions/Billions of Dollars War Cost %

GDP in Peak

Year of War

American Revolution 1775-1783 $101 million NA
War of 1812 1812-1815 $90 million 2.2% in 1813
Mexican War 1846-1849 $71 million 1.4% in 1847
Civil War: Union 1861-1865 $3,183 million 11.3% in 1865
Civil War: Confederacy 1861-1865 $1,000 million NA
Spanish American War 1898-1899 $283 million 1.1% in 1899
World War I 1917-1921 $20 billion 13.6% in 1919
World War II 1941-1945 $296 billion 35.8% in 1945
Korea 1950-1953 $30 billion 4.2% in 1952
Vietnam 1965-1975 $111 billion 2.3% in 1968
Persian Gulf War 1990-1991 $61 billion 0.3% in 1991
Iraq 2003-Present $616 billion 1.0% in 2008
Afghanistan 2001-Present $159 billion 0.3% in 2007
Post-9/11 Domestic Security (Operation Noble Eagle) 2001-Present $28 billion 0.1% in 2003
Total Post-9/11-Iraq, Afghanistan/War on Terror 2001-Present $809 billion 1.2% in 2008

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