III. Financial Cost
Conflict Cost in $ Billions Per Capita
Current 1990s (in $1990)
The Revolution (1775-1783) .10 1.2 $ 342.86
War of 1812 (1812-1815) .09 0.7 92.11
Mexican War (1846-1848) .07 1.1 52.13
Civil War (1861-1865): Union 3.20 27.3 1,041.98
: Confederate 2.00 17.1 2,111.11
: Combined 5.20 44.4 1,294.46
Spanish American War (1898) .40 6.3 84.45
World War I (1917-1918) 26.00 196.5 1,911.47
World War II (1941-1945) 288.00 2,091.3 15,655.17
Korea (1950-1953) 54.00 263.9 1,739.62
Vietnam (1964-1972) 111.00 346.7 1,692.04
Gulf War (1990-1991) 61.00 61.1 235.00
The table compares the cost of America's principal wars since 1775 on the basis of then current and 1990s dollars. Current dollars are the actual numbers spent at the time. Thus, a 1775-1783 dollar had the equivalent purchasing power of $10.75 in 1990s terms. Actually this conversion is only a very rough guide, but at least gives some idea of the relative costs of the ten wars on an adjusted basis. However, it is not possible to take into account drastic changes in social structure (most Americans were farmers in 1775, and didn't use much money), and the increasing affluence of American society over the two centuries covered by the table.
Note that the figures are for direct costs only, omitting pension costs, which tended to triple the ultimate outlays. The table also omits the cost of damage to the national infrastructure during those wars waged on American soil. Confederate figures are estimated.
For the Gulf War it is worth noting that various members of the allied coalition reimbursed the U.S. for 88-percent ($54 billion) of the amount shown, so the actual cost to the taxpayer was only about $7 billion, roughly the same as for the Spanish-American War, and on a per capita basis only $26.92, arguably the least expensive war in the nation's history.
Today, we find this story:
WASHINGTON - The bitter fight over the latest Iraq spending bill has all but obscured a sobering fact: The war will soon cost more than $500 billion.
That's about ten times more than the Bush administration anticipated before the war started four years ago, and no one can predict how high the tab will go. The $124 billion spending bill that President Bush plans to veto this week includes about $78 billion for Iraq, with the rest earmarked for the war in Afghanistan, veterans' health care and other government programs.
Congressional Democrats and Bush agree that they cannot let their dispute over a withdrawal timetable block the latest cash installment for Iraq. Once that political fight is resolved, Congress can focus on the president's request for $116 billion more for the war in the fiscal year that starts on Sept. 1.
The combined spending requests would push the total for Iraq to $564 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
A quick look at the Bureau of Labour Statistics suggests that $1 US 1990 is worth $1.57 US 2007. This implies that the requests will push the cost for the invasion of Iraq - so far - to about $360 billion in 1990$ terms, for comparison purposes.
The invasion and occupation of Iraq so far, therefore, has cost the US more than Vietnam, almost half as much again as Korea, and almost twice as much as WWI.