Some historical perspective:Civilian casualities in war


    Life is precious...these numbers astounded me.

    The redemptive side of war

    How military conflict can save civilian lives
    The fall of Saddam's regime was cheered by Iraqis living in America. In Everett, Wash., Adil Rikabi, left, embraces Kadahun Al-Mosawi, in celebration of advances made by U.S. troops on Wednesday.

    By William Saletan

    April 10- American troops have seized Baghdad. Saddam's henchmen have fled. Iraqis are rejoicing in the streets. Vice President Dick Cheney and other authors of the war plan are crowing we told you so. I've got an I-told-you so, too. But it isn't about winning the war. It's about winning wars without killing thousands of people.

    THREE WEEKS AGO, based on early reports from Iraq, I suggested that war against repressive regimes no longer necessitates massive casualties. Opponents of the war fired back. Some argued that war was always immoral; others argued that this war was hasty or unjust. All agreed that the immorality of war was based on the immorality of killing. Now that Baghdad has fallen, here's my question to peaceniks: Are you against killing, or are you against war? Because what happened in Iraq suggests you may have to choose.

    The precision of military technology is constantly improving. So are the speed and breadth of mass media, which in turn make public relations crucial to military success. As a result, the rate of civilian casualties is declining from war to war.

    According to the Vietnamese government, 2 million North Vietnamese civilians and 2 million South Vietnamese civilians died in the Vietnam War. Human Rights Watch estimates that in the Persian Gulf War, "the total number of civilians killed directly by allied attacks did not exceed several thousand, with an upper limit of perhaps between 2,500 and 3,000 Iraqi dead." In the Kosovo war, HRW identified "ninety separate incidents involving civilian deaths during the seventy-eight day bombing campaign. Some 500 Yugoslav civilians are known to have died in these incidents."
    There are no official civilian death figures for the current war, but estimates in today's newspapers range from 600 to 1,100. That includes people killed or used as shields by Iraqi troops. The number of civilians killed by errant coalition bombs or missiles could be half of that. It could be less; it could be more. Either way, it's well below the figure for the Gulf War and way below the figures for previous wars.

    Military service during war: 42,348,460
    Battle deaths: 650,954
    Other deaths in service (theater): 13,853
    Other deaths in service (nontheater): 229,661
    Non-mortal woundings: 1,431,290
    Living war veterans: 19,421,2661
    Living veterans: 25,497,6911*
    * Veterans Administration estimate

    American Revolution (1775-1783)
    Total servicemembers: 217,000
    Battle deaths: 4,435
    Non-mortal woundings: 6,188
    War of 1812 (1812-1815)
    Total servicemembers: 286,730
    Battle deaths: 2,260
    Non-mortal woundings: 4,505

    Indian Wars (approx. 1817-1898)
    Total servicemembers: 106,000
    Battle deaths: 1,000

    Mexican War (1846-1848)
    Total servicemembers: 78,718
    Battle deaths: 1,733
    Other deaths in service (nontheater): 11,550
    Non-mortal woundings: 4,152

    Civil War (1861-1865)
    Total servicemembers (Union): 2,213,363
    Battle deaths (Union): 140,414
    Other deaths in service (nontheater) (Union): 224,097
    Non-mortal woundings (Union): 281,881
    Total servicemembers (Conf.): 1,050,000
    Battle deaths (Conf.): 74,524
    Other deaths in service (nontheater) (Conf.): 59,2972 *
    Non-mortal woundings (Conf.): unknown
    Spanish-American War (1898-1902)
    Total servicemembers: 306,760
    Battle deaths: 385
    Other deaths in service (nontheater): 2,061
    Non-mortal woundings: 1,662

    * Estimated figure. Does not include 26,000-31,000 who died in Union prisons.

    World War I (1917-1918)
    Total servicemembers: 4,734,991
    Battle deaths: 53,402
    Other deaths in service (nontheater): 63,114
    Non-mortal woundings: 204,002
    Living veterans: 2,503 *
    World War II (1940-1945)
    Total servicemembers: 16,112,566
    Battle deaths: 291,557
    Other deaths in service (nontheater): 113,842
    Non-mortal woundings: 671,846
    Living veterans: 5,451,378 *

    * Veterans Administration estimate

    Korean War (1950-1953)
    Total servicemembers: 5,720,000
    Battle deaths: 33,686
    Other deaths in service (theater): 2,830
    Other deaths in service (nontheater): 17,730
    Non-mortal woundings: 103,284
    Living veterans: 3,913,749 *
    Vietnam War (1964-1975)
    Total servicemembers: 9,200,000
    Deployed to Southeast Asia: 3,100,000
    Battle deaths: 47,410
    Other deaths in service (theater): 10,788
    Other deaths in service (nontheater): 32,000
    Non-mortal woundings: 153,303
    Living veterans: 8,300,106 *

    Gulf War (1990-1991)
    Total servicemembers: 2,322,332
    Deployed to Gulf: 1,136,658
    Battle deaths: 148
    Other deaths in service (theater): 235
    Other deaths in service (nontheater): 914
    Non-mortal woundings: 467
    Living veterans: 1,753,530 *

    * Veterans Administration estimate

    Source:; Department of Defense and Veterans Administration, May 2001
    Printable version

    Compare this to the number of people Saddam has killed at home and abroad. According to the Federation of American Scientists, in the Iran-Iraq War, which Saddam started, "[E]stimates suggest more than one and a half million war and war-related casualties. ... Iran's losses may have included more than 1 million people killed or maimed. The war claimed at least 300,000 Iranian lives." HRW says Saddam's slaughter of the Kurds included "the mass murder and disappearance of many tens of thousands of non-combatants-50,000 by the most conservative estimate," and "the use of chemical weapons against non-combatants in dozens of locations, killing thousands."

    Then there was the invasion of Kuwait, and the annihilation of Shiites in Iraq's southern marshes. According to HRW, "Numbering some 250,000 people as recently as 1991, the Marsh Arabs today are believed to number fewer than 40,000 in their ancestral homeland. Many have been arrested, 'disappeared,' or executed." As for Saddam's current kill rate, HRW reports, "It is not possible to determine with certainty the number of people executed by law or government order in Iraq each year. For the past two decades and with depressing regularity, the reported figures for those executed have run into the hundreds each year and, in some years, have reached several thousand."

    Simply put, the number of innocent people who are dead because we ousted Saddam is dwarfed by the number of innocent people who are dead because we didn't. The use of American force is on one side of the ledger, and mass killing is on the other. Trends in military and media technology make this dilemma increasingly likely where belligerent murderers rule. You can keep your hands clean, or you can keep many more people alive. It's up to you.

    William Saletan is Slate's chief political correspondent.
    Last edit by Furball on Apr 16, '03
  2. 2 Comments

  3. by   rncountry
    I got my archaeology magazine yesterday. In it was an article on Prehistoric warfare, written by a professional that specializes in archaeological warfare findings.
    To quote:
    "Another surprising fact is that the amount of warfare has declined over time. If we count the proportion of a society that died from warfare, and not the size of armies, as the true measure of warfare, then we find that foragers and farmers have much higher death rates-often approaching 25 percent of the mean-than more recent complex societies. No complex society, including modern states, ever approached this level of warfare."
    And this:
    "Surprising to some is the skeletal evidence for warfare in prehistoric California, one thought of as a land of peaceful acorn gatherers. The prehistoric people who lived in Southern California had the highest incident of warfare deaths known anywhere in the world. Thirty percent of a large sample of males dating to the first centuries A.D. had wounds or died violent deaths. About half that number of women had similar histories. When we remember that not all warfare deaths leave skeletal evidence, this is a staggering number."
    War is hell as they say, but the reality is that we are not killing people at the rates that have historically been done. Not by a long shot.
  4. by   pickledpepperRN
    I learned a lot about the 5 "civilized tribes" in Oklahoma as a kid.
    Living here there is a lot in museums but the violence was not mentioned.
    I work with very kind nurses and other hospital workers who are in part descendants of people in California before the Spaniards and Sir Francis Drake. One nurses father is a history teacher. I will ask him. He has Yaqui ancestors. Now it seems to be casinos.
    Seems to make money but how productive is that?
    Off the subject, I talk (type?) too much.