Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress has appropriated more than $800 billion for military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world, including $65 billion to cover costs for the first few months of FY2009. Almost as soon as the next Administration takes office, the military services are expected to submit requests for additional funds — quite possibly $100 billion or more — to cover costs of overseas operations and of repairing and replacing worn equipment through the remainder of the fiscal year. In the face of these rather substantial and growing amounts, a recurring question has been how the mounting costs of the nation’s current wars compare to the costs of earlier conflicts.
Turns out, the cost of the current long term operations in the Middle East are similar to the cost of the Vietnam War. However, when stacked against WWII, there is little similarity. In fact, even the sum of every U.S. conflict (other than WWII) since the American Revolution does not equal the Big One! Even cheating a little and including expenses from both sides of the Civil War do not get us over the 50% mark. Wow. WWII was one seriously expensive war!
The following table provides estimates of costs of major wars from the American Revolution through Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf war of 1990-1991, and current conflicts. It also provides estimates of war costs as a share of the economy. Comparisons of costs of wars over a 230 year period, however, are inherently problematic. One problem is how to separate costs of military operations from costs of forces in peacetime. In recent years, the Defense Department has tried to identify the additional “incremental” expenses of engaging in military operations, over and above the costs of maintaining standing military forces. Before the Vietnam conflict, however, the Defense Department and others did not view war costs in such terms.
Note: all data and some of the text was directly lifted from the recently released Congressional Research Service report titled: “Costs of Major U.S. Wars” by Stephen Daggett