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World War II - According to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. spent roughly $4 billion in WWII. That was about the equivalent to 36 percent of the U.S. GDP at the time. Historians largely point to WWII as the turning point from the Great Depression.
War on Terror - The U.S. has been fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. The ongoing situation in Afghanistan makes it the longest war in U.S. history. Reports estimate that the U.S. has spent approximately $1.4 trillion.
Vietnam - Simply put, the U.S. was involved in Vietnam since the end of WWII. It wanted to eliminate any potential for the country to fall to communism. Beginning in 1946, the U.S. was aiding France against rebel movements in Indochina. By 1955, military spending on Vietnam was ramping up considerably. Altogether, it cost the U.S. over $738 billion.
The Cold War - Following WWII, the U.S. engaged in a massive arms race with the Soviet Union. Massive amounts of money were poured into defense and intelligence programs. Historians estimate that the budget for the war was around $5.5 trillion, making it the most expensive in U.S. history-even though there were never any direct violent confrontations.
Costs of Major U.S. Wars (fas.org)
"This CRS report provides estimates of the costs of major U.S. wars from the American Revolution through current conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere."
The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11 (fas.org)
"... Congress has approved appropriations for the past 13 years of war that total $1.6 trillion for military operations, base support, weapons maintenance, training of Afghan and Iraq security forces, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans' health care for the war operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks."
Defense spending in the U.S., in four charts (washingtonpost.com)
"Defense prices have risen by about 553 percent since 1970, whereas the consumer price index, the most common inflation measure, only grew by about 487 percent."
Military expenditure (% of GDP) (data.worldbank.org)
"Military expenditures data from SIPRI are derived from the NATO definition, which includes all current and capital expenditures on the armed forces, including peacekeeping forces; defense ministries and other government agencies engaged in defense projects; paramilitary forces, if these are judged to be trained and equipped for military operations; and military space activities."