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Relative Monetary Costs of American Wars

By Patrick McSherry

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

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 2010 dollars, are the costs for the major conflicts in which the U.S. was involved since the Revolution through the Persian Gulf War. Please note that on the table below, the "Spanish American War" line actually includes the cost of both the Spanish American War and Philippine American War together.

 Cost at the Time
of the Conflict
Cost in
2010 Dolllars
American Revolution
$101 Million
$2.4 Billion
War of 1812
$90 Million
$1.5 Billion
Mexican War
$71 Million
$2.3 Billion
Civil War
$3.1 Billion
American War

$283 Million
$9.0 Billion
World War I $20 Billion
$334 Billion
World War II $296 Billion
$4,100 Billion
Korean War $30 Billion
$341 Billion
Vietnam $111 Billion
$738 Billion
Persian Gulf
$61 Billion
$102 Billion

Lastly, the above data does not reflect total costs, since some costs are ongoing. The above does not include costs such as ongoing healthcare, pensions and dependent benefits. The Spanish American War ended in 1898. As of November, 2020, over one hundred twenty years later, the U.S. government was still paying veterans' benefits to thirty-five spouses and twenty-five children of Spanish American War veterans!

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.


Office of Public Affairs, Department of Veterans Affairs, "America's Wars,"

Daggett, Stephen, "Costs of Major U.S. Wars," Congressional Research Service (Library of Congress), 7-5700, RS22926, Page 1.

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