The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

July 21, 2010
Today's wars costlier than all other U.S. conflicts except WWII

Since 9/11, military outlays beyond the normal expenditures of maintaining a standing military capacity have topped $1.1 trillion -- an impressive price tag for a budget-strapped nation -- according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service. Corrected for inflation, the agency estimated the price of the ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan wars as higher than any other conflict in U.S. history, except World War II, which cost more than $4 trillion in today's dollars. (An explosion in Kandahar, Afghanistan pictured here. AP photo by Allauddin Khan.)Afghanistan.jpg

The report contains a fascinating chart that compares every military conflict in the nation's history, including American Revolution ($2.4 billion), the Vietnam War ($784 billion) and World War I ($334 billion).

The author, defense specialist Stephen Daggett, warns that such comparisons can't be made with the same precision the numbers might suggest. That's in part because different historical eras experienced different demands for ever-more costly war-fighting technologies. And as a percentage of the nation's GDP, today's war costs are far lower than nearly all prior wars. Still, as a rough gauge, the new study shows that the current wars already rank among the costliest in history.

Other analysts, such as Nobel prize winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes, have calculated vastly higher costs when including such items as support for soldiers who return from recent wars with grave medical or psychological problems.

-Charles Piller

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