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History Extra explains... How much did the First World War cost?

As part of our new 'History Extra explains' series, leading historians answer the burning questions you were too afraid to ask...

Published: September 15, 2014 at 1:50 pm
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How much did the First World War cost?

This is extremely difficult to calculate: it can include factors like national debt from international borrowing; destruction to land and industry – principally a factor for France, Belgium and Russia, though replacement of lost shipping was a major cost for Britain – the costs of long-term medical care for the maimed or traumatised; widows’ pensions and other compensation payments, as well as the economic impact of disrupting normal production and trading patterns to meet the demands of war.

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The difficulty of deciding exactly what to include in the costs of the war meant Germany faced an unlimited post-war reparations bill. Inflation and changes to the money system also make it difficult to give realistic figures.

In late 20th-century US dollars, the war probably cost Britain something like 35 billion, Germany closer to 38, France 24 and Russia 23. But the true cost of the war lies in much wider concepts than mere finance.

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Seán Lang is a senior lecturer in history at Anglia Ruskin University, and the author of First World War for Dummies.

For more burning historical Q&As on the Tudors, ancient Rome, the First World War and ancient Egypt, click here.

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