Wars have been fought since ancient times. The age-old adage is that wars can never be won, and thus, must never be fought. Sometimes, though, there is a compelling and just reason to wage war, like when Hitler wanted to rule the world. Other times, however, wars are fought merely to help pump up the economy because it would bring about an increased demand for weapons, which in turn, would lead to more employment and humming factories.
There are the human element and the social cost, as well, but these are hard to convert to monetary terms. Wars are certainly expensive, with the amounts spent probably enough to solve the world’s hunger problem several times over. Below is a list of the top ten most expensive wars.
1. World War II (1941-1945) – $4.1 trillion
World War II actually started in 1939 when Nazi Germany launched a blitzkrieg against Poland. It quickly spread across Europe, as Britain and France declared war on Germany and Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. The United States remained neutral for a while, even as it was still recovering from the Great Depression. In 1941, it finally joined the war on the side of the Allies after Japan surprised it with an attack on Pearl Harbor. Americans were heavily involved in both European and Asian theaters, eventually turning the tide in the Allies’ favor. During this time, the nuclear weapon was created and used for the first time.
2. Post 9-11 (2001-2010) – $1.1 trillion
The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. on 11 September 2001 led to massive worldwide indignation. The United States quickly responded by going after the group responsible for the attacks, the Al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden. The group and its leadership had been hiding out in Afghanistan where they had accommodating hosts in the Taliban. The hunt for bin Laden finally led to his death in Pakistan in 2011.
Meanwhile, the Americans also waged a war against Iraq for supposedly posing a danger by creating a nuclear weapon. The allegations were refuted not only by Iraq, but also by the United Nations. The Americans pushed on with the war, culminating in the death of Saddam Hussein in 2006. No evidence was ever found that Iraq even had the capability to build the nuclear bomb.
3. Vietnam War (1965-1975) – $738 billion
It was the height of the Cold War, and the Americans were in no mood to give up any country to a communist state. Even if that country was led by unpopular despots who had killed many of his own people, and who had inadvertently been feeding the communist guerillas himself through his tyrannical rule of the people. His unpopularity translated to a similar dislike of the Americans that were waging a war on a people who had done nothing wrong against them. The Americans lost the war, subtly covering it up with a pull out of its forces before it got totally defeated. By that time, American napalm and other weapons had already scarred millions of Vietnamese.
4. Korean War (1950-1953) – $341 billion
At the start of the Cold War, Korea served as one of the first battlegrounds. Korea had been divided into a communist North and the capitalist South, with a border at the 38th parallel. China and the Soviet Union backed the North, while the United States and its allies supported the South. During the height of the war, General Douglas MacArthur seriously considered using the atomic bomb.
5. World War I (1917-1921) – $334 billion
World War I actually began in 1914, but the United States only joined in 1917. Before that, Europe was divided into two camps consisting of the Allied Powers of Britain, France, and others, versus the Central Powers of Germany, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. The U.S. remained neutral because it believed it would not further its interest if they join the war. They continued trading with both sides. The unlimited submarine warfare policy of Germany, however, had sunk ships with American passengers, and this slowly turned the American public against them. In 1917, the Americans finally entered the war on the side of the Allies. The war ended a year after.
6. Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) – $102 billion
Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait in 1990, citing historical claims to the latter that was supposed to be part of Iraq had it not been for a British invention. This threatened the Western world’s oil supply, which was further exacerbated when Hussein started threatening Saudi Arabia. The U.S. then launched Operation Desert Shield, aimed at preventing Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia. This later on became Desert Storm, a war meant to free Kuwait that was seen by the rest of the world on CNN.
7. Civil War (1861-1865) – $79.7 billion, 59.6 Union
The Civil War pitted the Union states opposed to slavery against the Confederate states that were pro-slavery. It pitted Americans against other Americans in a war that split the nation. While it cost the nation a lot, it was also a fight that needed to be fought, though white extremists would continue lynching African-Americans until well into the 20th century. The Union spent nearly $60 billion for the war, while the Confederacy used up almost $20 billion in current money.
8. Spanish-American War (1898-1899) – $9 billion
Spain then was in control of Cuba, which was just off Florida. Washington demanded that Spain turn over control to the U.S. When Spain rejected the demand, the Spanish-American War erupted. This started American expansionist policy, as they took over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.
9. American Revolution (1775-1783) – $2.4 billion
It was a conflict between the 13 colonies and the British crown, as Americans demanded equal rights. The disagreement on how they should be treated resulted into a cry of No Taxation Without Representation. It took eight years, with the war ending with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. By that time, the United States was already an independent country.
10. Mexican War (1846-1849) – $2.37 billion
It erupted after the U.S. annexed Texas in 1845. It eventually occupied New Mexico and California, before capturing Mexico City. The war forced Mexico to give Alta California and New Mexico to the Americans for $15 million and the American’s assumption of $3.25 million in debt that Mexico owed to U.S. citizens.