U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq“Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress has appropriated more than a trillion dollars for military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world.”  So begins a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) entitled Costs of Major U.S. Wars.  The report, dated June 29, 2010, provides cost estimates in historic and current dollar amounts for all major U.S. wars beginning with the American Revolution.

Two things from the report stand out to me:

  1. The report provides a valuable discussion of the difficulties inherent in comparing costs over time.  Inflation, GDP growth, and increasing sophistication in military technology, combined with the challenge of developing an accurate cost estimate for war, cast an unavoidable shadow of inaccuracy over the figures. Nevertheless, the statistics are valuable provided we remember their limitations.  The report itself is an excellent example of how to provide proper context for statistics–something we rarely get in mainstream reporting.
  2. The war cost calculated as a percentage of GDP during the peak year of the war is the most interesting statistic in the report.  Looking at the figures, it is obvious why World War II left such a mark on the generation that survived it.

CRS publishes many reports on a wide variety of topics of interest to Congress and the public (including attorneys).  Locating the reports can be a challenge.  Some are available here.  A guide to locating CRS reports is available here.

Image from the U.S. Army’s Flickr stream

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