The US has spent at least $4.8 trillion in the War of Afghanistan. This massive bill is not that surprising considering that the cost of a modern fighter jet can be $250 million and an aircraft carrier can cost $13 billion.
From ancient times to today, war is a heavy financial burden, but some are more burdensome than others. From the American Revolution to the current Syrian Civil War, here are some of the most expensive wars.
Mexican-American War: Was Texas Worth The Money?
The Mexican-American War lasted from 1846 to 1849 and cost the US $2.4 billion. The cause? The Lone Star State. In 1845, newly elected president James K. Polk sent troops to take control of Texas. In 1846, Mexican forces engaged and defeated American troops in what is now known as the Thorton Affair.
President Polk evoked this confrontation to Congress as the primary justification for declaring war. The war ended on February 2nd, 1848, with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which granted Texas to the US and established the Rio Grande as the southern border of the new state.
American Civil War: Did The Union Or The Confederacy Spend More?
Fought from 1861 to 1865, the American Civil War pitted brother against brother. Almost every American knows of this conflict considering it is the most studied and most written about episode in US history. But few people know the staggering costs of this war off the top of their head — the Union spent around $6 billion while the Confederacy spent approximately $2 billion.
The war ended when General Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union at the Battle of Appomattox Court House.
World War I: A War To End All Wars?
World War I is also known as the Great War or ‘the war to end all wars.’ This global conflict, spanning 1914 to 1918, possesses many monikers, which is a testament to its impact. World War I cost a momentous $186 billion in direct costs. Human costs were also absurdly high: nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a direct result of the war.
But the world did not seem to have learned its lesson — after a little more than 20 years, World War II erupted.
Vietnam War: How Much American Treasure Was Lost?
Great amounts of American blood and treasure were lost in the jungles of Vietnam in a conflict which lasted from 1965 to 1973. This treasure amounted to $168 billion dollars. 960,000 to 3.8 million Vietnamese were killed, as well as 58,220 US service members. In 1975, North Vietnam reunified the country under a communist state.
The end of the Vietnam War gave rise to the Vietnamese boat people, which saw 2 million Vietnamese flee their country in rickety boats. 402,382 of these refugees settled in the US.
Korean War: Still No Peace Treaty After 66 Years
The Korean War (1950-1953) is also known as the Forgotten War or the Unknown War because of the lack of public attention in the English-speaking world. But its financial cost is anything but forgettable — all in all, the war consumed $67 billion. The Korean War was fought between South Korea, supported by the US and the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by China and the Soviet Union.
The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953, and it created the Korean Demilitarized Zone. A peace treaty has still not been signed between North and South Korea.
Gulf War: A Shield And A Storm Cost A Lot of Money
Codenamed Operation Desert Shield for the military buildup stage and Operation Desert Storm for the combat phase, the Gulf War lasted from August 2nd, 1990 to January 17th, 1991 and was a response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The US led an alliance of 35 countries against Iraq. The war cost these nations $61 billion. The war ended with the liberation of Kuwait.
Interestingly, the Gulf War was also called the Iraq War until 2003, when the term became associated with what is now known as the Iraq War.
World War II: 3% Of The World Perished
World War II (1939-1945) involved over 100 million people and cost around 1.3 trillion dollars. That’s 12 zeros. The war was brutal, and an estimated 70-85 million people lost their lives, which was about 3% of the world population in 1940. Only 20% of males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 survived the war.
The war ended with the victory of the Allies over the Axis. The Cold War, which pitted the US against the Soviet Union, began shortly after the conclusion of World War II.
American Revolution: The Second Deadliest Conflict In American History
The American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) was fought between Great Britain and its Thirteen Colonies, which were supported by France. The US spent $400 million, the UK spent £250 million, and France spent 1.3 billion livres. American colonists who supported independence were labeled ‘Patriots’, and those who wished to remain with Great Britain were known as ‘loyalists’.
The Peace of Paris of 1773 formally ended the war and granted independence to the US. The American Revolution was the second deadliest conflict in American history, after the Civil War. The most frequent cause of death was because of disease.
Iraq War: How Long Did Saddam Hussein Last?
The Iraq War (2003-2011) began with the invasion of Iraq. The US and its allies only took three weeks to topple the government of Saddam Hussein and sustained few casualties. But the resulting insurgency was not as easy to handle. The US spent nearly $1.1 trillion in Iraq. One major expense was the 1.6 million gallons of oil that the US consumed each day.
In 2003, President Bush’s administration predicted that the Iraq War would be a ‘cakewalk’. It was anything but.
Second Boer War: Long Live The King?
The Second Boer War lasted from October 11th, 1899 to May 31st, 1902, and involved the mighty British Empire against two Boer states: the Orange Free State and the South African Republic, which are both now part of South Africa. The conflict was over the amount of British influence in the region.
The British won the war and dissolved the Boer states in accordance with the Treaty of Vereeniging. But the victory was not cheap. The total cost to the British government was approximately £211,156,000. Interestingly enough, the term ‘concentration camp’ comes from this war.
Six-Day War: Short But Costly
The Six-Day War lasted from June 5ht to 10th in 1967 and was fought between Israel on one side and Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt on the other. Despite only lasting six days, the war cost Israel $1.12 billion. The war resulted in an Israeli victory: Israel took control of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.
Israel won the war despite possessing only 150,000 regular troops. Egypt’s army numbered 240,000 while Syria, Jordan, and Iraq had a combined total of 307,000 men.
War In Afghanistan: Longest In US History
The War in Afghanistan began in 2001 and is still ongoing as of 2019. It is the longest war in US history. It is also one of the most costly: the US has spent a staggering $4.8 trillion as of 2016. The objectives of the War in Afghanistan were to dismantle al-Queda and to prevent them from using Afghan bases by removing the Taliban from power.
Although these objectives were attained in 2001, the US and an allied Afghan government continue to fight insurgents. As of July 27, 2018, 2,372 US troops have died in Afghanistan.
The War Of 1812: Who Won?
From June 1812 to February 1815, the US and the UK were at war. The war cost the US and Great Britain around $105 million each. The British see this war as a mere blip on their radar, as they consider it a minor part of the Napoleonic Wars. But in Canada and the US, the War of 1812 is considered a war in its own right.
What was the result? A military statement. But if ask Canadians who won, their answer certainly differs from Americans!
Syrian Civil War: Loss Of Heritage
The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 and is ongoing as of 2019. Rather than focus on the amount of money a country spent in this war, instead, let’s focus on the costs in damages. In 2018, the UN has estimated the total amount of damages to Syria as a result of the civil war to be around $388 billion.
The damage has not just been financial — five of the six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Syria have been damaged. One of these sites is the medieval buildings in the Ancient City of Aleppo.
War On Drugs: Obama Put A Stop To It
The War on Drugs is a campaign to reduce the trade of illegal drugs in the US. These drugs include heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. The War on Drugs is a figurative war rather than a conventional one, but the costs are not figurative at all. The War on Drugs costs the US about $78 billion a year.
In 2009, the Obama administration declared that it would abandon the phrase “War on Drugs” to refer to federal anti-drug efforts.
Kosovo War: Is Kosovo A Country?
Kosovo is a partially recognized state in Southeastern Europe. In 2003, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. The United States and several influential members of the European Union chose to recognize Kosovo’s independence, but Serbia did not. During the Kosovo War (1998-1999), ethnic Albanians opposed ethnic Serbs and the government of Yugoslavia. According to BBC, the total bill of the war was £31.67 billion.
During the war, NATO conducted a bombing campaign that has remained controversial, as the UN Security Council did not approve of it and because it caused at least 488 Yugoslav civilian deaths.
The Crimean War: First Use Of Modern Technologies
The Crimean War was fought from October 1853 to February 1856. In this war, the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain, and Sardinia formed an alliance and defeated the Russian Empire. One of the causes of the conflict involved the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land, which was in Ottoman Empire territory. This war cost Britain a whopping £74 million.
The Crimean War was one of the first modern wars. It was the first time that militaries used modern technologies such as explosive naval shells, railways, and telegraphs.
Napoleonic Wars: Was Napoleon Really Short?
The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were fought between the French Empire and different European powers, usually headed by the UK. The conflict arose from unresolved disputes over the French Revolution (1789-1799). As the leader, the UK also contributed a lot of money: £831 million. Napoleon was permanently defeated at the battle of Waterloo in June 1815.
A persistent myth is that Napoleon was short. The confusion stems from different measurement systems. Napoleon measured 5 feet 2 inches in French units, which is the equivalent of 5 feet 6.5 inches (169 centimeters) in modern measurement units. This was an average height at the time.
The Spanish Civil War: For How Long Was Spain A Dictatorship?
The Spanish Civil War occurred from 1936 to 1939. The war pitted Republicans against Nationalists in Spain. Many saw it as a battle between republican democracy and dictatorship. The Republicans spent 40,304 million pesetas while the Francoist administration spent 11,894 million pesetas. The war resulted in the victory of the Nationalists and the subsequent formation of a government led by Francisco Franco.
Francisco Franco remained as the military dictator of Spain from the victory in 1939 to his death in 1975.
Falklands War: The Empire Strikes Back
The Falklands War was fought between Argentina and the United Kingdom from April 2nd to June 14th of 1982. Despite only lasting 10 weeks, the war cost the UK £700 million. The war began when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, which was a British dependent territory. The British succeeded in retaking the Falkland Islands.
On April 19th, 1982, in regards to the war, Newsweek‘s front page declared, ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ a reference to the British Empire and to Star Wars.