War is a costly proposition. People are killed and maimed. Families are torn apart and economies can be ruined. Wars are fought for a number of reasons such as independence, expansion, idealism and sometimes out of economic necessity. Wars, especially in the modern day, can involve many parties due to individual pacts and treaties. A conflict between two nations has the ability to involve the entire world. Every day there is a war happening somewhere and it appears that the concept of world peace is nothing but a pipe dream. Casualties of war continue to rise as do the costs of doing battle. Here are the top 10 most expensive wars of all time.
10. US-Mexican War
Manifest Destiny was the American vision of a country that would span from sea to shining sea. It was also greatly responsible for causing the US-Mexican War. Another contributing factor was Texas aligning itself with the US which really ticked off the Mexicans. Between 1846 and 1848, hostilities between the US and Mexico raged and is estimated to have claimed nearly 40,000 lives. A lot of losses were due to infectious disease. The economic costs make the US-Mexican war one of the top 10 most expensive wars of all time. It is estimated that the war cost $98 million, or nearly $2.8 billion when adjusted to today’s rate.
9. American Revolution
The American Revolution was fought to establish independence and there were 1,547 individual battles fought. The war lasted for just over 8 years and many people perished. The biggest killer was not bullets or bayonets, but disease such as scurvy which was entirely preventable. In monetary figures, the cost to the US was about $2.4 billion of today’s money. The cost to the British was 250 million pounds and the French incurred costs of about 1.3 billion lives. The war caused the British and French economies to greatly suffer. The French economic weakening was partially responsible for the onset of the French Revolution.
8. Spanish-American War
Triggered by the sinking of the USS Maine, the United States declared war on Spain on April 21st, 1898. The war lasted until December 1898 and resulted in an independent Cuba as well as Puerto Rico and Guam falling into American hands. It also led to the US purchasing the Philippines for $20 million. The vast majority of deaths were actually the result of diseases such as yellow fever and typhoid fever. The monetary cost of the war is estimated to have been over $7 billion in today’s rate. The war also established the United States’ as a world power.
7. American Civil War
The American Civil War was a bloody conflict that claimed the lives of about 620,000 Americans between start 1861 and 1865 when Union armies captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis. With a Northern victory, the United States remained as one nation and slavery was abolished. The war caused major economic hardship and forced the government of the day to devise plans to raise all the capital they could muster. The final cost of the American Civil War is estimated to have been $4.2 billion or a whopping $88 billion in today’s dollars. While it is not the most expensive war to be fought it was a crucial turning point in US history.
6. Persian Gulf War
Also known as Operation Desert Storm, the Persian Gulf War began on August 2nd, 1990, in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. A coalition of 670,000 troops from 28 countries took part until it ended on April 6, 1991. While the human casualty rate was not too high, the monetary cost of the War was extremely steep. While some estimates are much higher, the US State Department figured the cost to be around $61 billion. That equals about $110 billion in today’s dollars. Operation Desert Storm goes down as one of the top 10 most expensive wars of all time.
5. Korean War
On June 25th, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and the Korean War was on. Acting on a UN resolution, the United States and a coalition of 15 other countries got involved on behalf of South Korea. The war raged until July 27th, 1953. In all, the war lasted about three years but the costs associated with it are jaw-dropping. There are several estimates of the casualty count. It is estimated that roughly 3 million lives were lost. The monetary cost is estimated to be around $67 billion. That is equal to about $671 billion at today’s rate making the Korean War one of the top 10 most expensive wars of all time.
4. Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was an expensive War. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. Thousands of young Americans were sent to fight in a war they wanted nothing to do with. In early 1965, the United States began air raids and by 1966, there were 190,000 US troops in Vietnam. By 1968, the troop count was around 500,000. By 1975, the United States pulled out. The Defense Department estimated the cost of the Vietnam War to be in the range of $173 billion. That’s $1.1 trillion in today’s figures. Of course, the monetary cost is easier to accept than the human cost.
3. World War I
The cost of World War I is difficult to estimate with so many factors to consider. We know that the human cost was immense. About 9.4 million people died. There were also the 15 million men and women who were injured and the millions of people who were displaced. The numbers are staggering. Also, staggering is the price tag which is estimated to have been $208 billion. Translated into today’s dollars it comes out to about $3.2 trillion. World War I had a major impact on global economies and is largely responsible for years of economic depression around the world.
2. War On Terror
It is hard to come to an actual dollar amount when trying to figure the money spent on the War on Terror. In 2011, the Pentagon claimed that up to that point, the war had cost the US $1 trillion. A panel of academics calculated the cost to be around $5 trillion. According to a study done by Watson’s Institute of International Studies, the cost of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will reach $3.7 trillion and go as high as $4.4 trillion. Regardless of who is correct, the bottom line is that the War on Terror is one of the top 10 most expensive wars of all time.
1. World War II
World War II not only saw massive amounts of human casualties and other destruction, it also consumed unimaginable amounts of money and resources by all involved. It is estimated that the United States spent at least $341 billion dollars. That’s 1945 dollars, which is equivalent to approximately $4.5 trillion in today’s money. Other countries paid a lot of money as well. Germany paid $272 billion for the war. Although you would have thought that the Soviet Union had the highest war expenses it only had $192 billion in war expenses. Britain had $120 billion in war expenses and Italy $94 billion. Another surprise was that despite being one of the main participants in the war Japan only had $56 billion in the total war expenses. The expenses by all the countries who fought the war totals just over one trillion dollars. In today’s money that is equivalent to over a staggering total of $14 trillion.