In the years following World War II, the cost of war was a major topic of discussion. The United States and its allies had spent billions of dollars on the war effort, and there was a lot of debate about how to pay for it all. Finally, in September 1945, President Harry Truman sent a proposal to Congress asking for $50 billion in war debt forgiveness. Congress ultimately approved $13.3 billion in debt forgiveness, but that was just a small fraction of the total cost of the war.

The exact cost of World War II is impossible to calculate. However, estimates vary from $1 trillion to $3.5 trillion. This includes both direct and indirect costs, such as spending on military arms and supplies, veteran services, and repairs or reconstruction of damaged infrastructure.

The human cost of the war was also immense. More than 60 million people were killed or wounded, including more than 400,000 Americans. Many families were torn apart by the conflict, and millions of people were left homeless.

Hoboken World War II Memorial
(Source: Wally Gobetz/Flickr)

The aftermath of World War II left countries around the world struggling with immense financial burdens. It would take many years for them to recover from the devastation wrought by the war.

What was the total cost of World War II?

The total cost of World War II is nearly impossible to calculate. To start, there are a number of ways to measure cost—and when you add them all up, you get an even bigger number.

The best way to look at the cost of World War II is in two categories: direct and indirect costs. Direct costs are expenses that were paid during the war—things like military salaries, equipment, and supplies. Indirect costs are those paid afterward—like veterans’ benefits, the expense of repairing damaged property, and lost productivity due to the war effort. The direct costs of World War II were astronomical.

Globally, countries spent $4.38 trillion on the war effort. The US spent $342 billion on the war—or 46% of the total cost. The UK spent $98 billion, Canada spent $10 billion, Australia spent $3 billion, and the Netherlands spent $6 billion.