The New York Times puts the monetary cost of war into perspective with this interesting graphic:
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The Times's headline ("The Current Conflicts Are the Second- Most Expensive...") doesn't capture all the information here. As the accompanying article states, "$1.1 million per man or woman in uniform in Afghanistan versus an adjusted $67,000 per year for troops in World War II and $132,000 in Vietnam."
For this high cost, the Times blames technology and "the price of maintaining a better-trained and higher-paid force," but it's also an indication of something else: The military is an all-volunteer force.
But the real story is in the chart, not the accompanying article. The actual cost of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq is extraordinarily low, when seen as a percentage of GDP. Whereas World War II constituted 35.8 percent of GDP spending, and whereas World War I made up 13.6 percent of GDP spending, the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (or what the Times calls "Afghanistan/Iraq/post-9/11) made up only 1.2 percent of GDP in 2008. The chart helpfully compares this to other wars: It falls in between the Mexican War (1847) and the Spanish-American War (1899).
Now, in these comparative terms, it seems that spending for these wars is not nearly high enough, considering the enormous consequences of defeat in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Gary Schmitt makes the case in a recent piece for THE WEEKLY STANDARD that 'the American military is already doing less with more.' Schmitt and Thomas Donnelly made the case against Obama's squeeze of the military here.