Relative Monetary Costs of American Wars

By Patrick McSherry


This article provides a basic monetary cost comparison of American wars from the Civil War to Vietnam.

The data:

One interesting comparison concerning the Spanish American War is the relative financial cost of the war. This is one quantitative way of studying the war, but, of course, it must be remembered that the financial cost can never address the death, pain and suffering on all sides of this, or any other, war.

Still, the following figures are interesting. These costs, adjusted for year 2000 dollars, are the costs for the major conflicts in which the U.S. was involved since the mid-19th century through Vietnam. It is not clear from the source if these costs reflect total cost or just U.S. costs, but it would appear that they are U.S. costs only. Assuming, however, that they are all calculated the same, they do make for an interesting comparison.

American Civil War
$62 Billion
Spanish American War
$5 Billion
World War One
$290 Billion
World War Two
$2,300 Billion
Korean Conflict
$111 Billion
$165 Billion

The Spanish American War had a very dramatic effect on American history in that the U.S. became an accepted world power virtually overnight, catapulting the nation onto the world stage. Though each of the conflicts listed above had a strong effect on this country in many ways, the Spanish American War’s legacy remains with us…and set the stage for the U.S.’s involvement in all of the later conflicts listed above. From a nationalistic U.S standpoint it could be argued that seldom has the country had such a large effect from such a small financial investment.


World Features Syndicate, Durham, NH, as reported in the Lancaster, PA Intelligencer Journal, on April 3, 2000.

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