Monday, October 16, 2017

The Big Business of American Wars

While it is a bit dated, a Congressional Research Service study takes a broad look at the history of war in the United States and provides us with a summary of the high cost of warfare.  The period covered in the CRS report looks at all major conflicts that have involved American armed services between the years from the American Revolution (1775 to 1783) to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2001 to 2010) and summarizes the total military cost of the conflicts in "current year dollars" (i.e. the amount spent at the time of the conflict) and in 2011 dollars as well as the cost of each conflict as a percentage of GDP in the peak year of the war as well as total defence spending as a percentage of GDP in the peak year of the war.  

Here we go, in chronological order:

1.) American Revolution - 1775 to 1783
Current Year Cost - $101 million
In 2011 Dollars - $2.407 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - N/A
Total Defense Spending as percentage of GDP - N/A

2.) War of 1812 - 1812 to 1815
Current Year Cost - $90 million
In 2011 Dollars - $1.553 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - 2.2 percent (1813)
Total Defense Spending as percentage of GDP - 2.7 percent

3.) Mexican War - 1846 to 1849
Current Year Cost - $71 million
In 2011 Dollars - $2.376 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - 1.4 percent (1847)
Total Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP - 1.9 percent

4.) Civil War (Union side) - 1861 to 1865
Current Year Cost - $3.183 billion
In 2011 Dollars - $59.631 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - 11.63 percent (1865)
Total Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP - N/A

5.) Civil War (Confederate side) - 1861 to 1865
Current Year Cost - $1 billion
In 2011 Dollars - $21.111 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - N/A
Total Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP - N/A

6.) Spanish- American War - 1898 to 1899
Current Year Cost - $283 million
In 2011 Dollars - $9.034 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - 1.1 percent (1899)
Total Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP - 1.5 percent

7.) World War I - 1917 to 1921
Current Year Cost - $20 billion
In 2011 Dollars - $334 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - 13.6 percent (1919)
Total Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP - 14.1

8.) World War II - 1941 to 1945
Current Year Cost - $296 billion
In 2011 Dollars - $4.104 trillion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - 35.8 percent (1945)
Total Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP - 37.5 percent

9.) Korean War - 1950 to 1953
Current Year Cost - $30 billion
In 2011 Dollars - $341 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - 4.2 percent (1952)
Total Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP - 13.2 percent

10.) Vietnam War - 1965 to 1975
Current Year Cost - $111 billion
In 2011 Dollars - $738 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - 2.3 percent (1968)
Total Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP - 9.5 percent

11.) Persian Gulf War - 1990 - 1991
Current Year Cost - $61 billion
In 2011 Dollars - $102 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - 0.3 percent (1991)
Total Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP - 4.6 percent

12.) Iraq - 2003 to 2010
Current Year Cost - $715 billion
In 2011 Dollars - $784 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - 1.0 percent (2008)
Total Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP - 4.3 percent

11.) Afghanistan/Other - 2001 to 2010
Current Year Cost - $297 billion
In 2011 Dollars - $321 billion
War Cost as a Percentage of GDP - 0.7 percent (2010)
Total Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP - 4.9 percent

While the study did cover the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the post-9/11 costs of actions in Pakistan, they are somewhat dated since they only go to what was spent in fiscal 2010, I will refer to the costs of the post-9/11 wars including America's involvement in Syria as summarized by the Watson Institute:


Here is a graph showing the cost of each war in 2011 dollars (excluding the post-9/11 wars which are in 2016 dollars):


Since the American Revolution in the mid-1770s, wars have cost Americans $10.507 trillion, excluding the estimated future interest costs on the debt associated with the post-9/11 wars which is projected to reach at least $7.9 trillion to the total costs by 2053.  As well, outside of World War II which was fought on a much larger scale than most of America's other wars, the cost of conflict has risen significantly as the decades have passed, thanks in large part to the use of high-priced technology.  

Conflicts, both internal and external, over the past two centuries  have cost Americans trillions of dollars, much of which has ended up as profits in the arms sector without mentioning the high cost to American families who have suffered the loss of their sons and fathers along with a growing number of daughters and mothers.  When politicians try to sell us on the next "good war", we need to remember that wars have had a very high cost and that very few benefit from the misery inflicted on the many.