What? Only 35,000,000 Killed in 20th Century War?

November 30, 2008

[First published on December 15, 2004] pointed out in a 1986 Wall Street Journal article (here) that the 20th Century is noted for its absolute and bloody wars. World War I saw nine-million people killed in battle, an incredible record that was far surpassed within a few decades by the 15 million battle deaths of World War II. Even the number killed in twentieth century revolutions and civil wars have set historical records. In total, this century’s battle killed in all its international and domestic wars, revolutions, and violent conflicts is so far about 35,654,000.

I then received an email suggesting that my total is probably inaccurate; the total might be closer to 100 million.

I should have qualified the total as for military combat dead and civilians caught in the crossfire. Consider WWII for example. The most authoritative source, widely relied on in the field of war studies, are the statistical data on war published by J. David Singer (search under COW Project). His figure for WWII war dead is 15 million. Now, one may think he is in error, since the war dead ordinarily given for the USSR alone is about 20 million, and often cited is 50000,000 to 60,000,000 for the whole war. How then can Singer and I say 15,000,000 dead in the war? Part of the problem is that many figures one sees for wars include combat dead and those murdered by government (democide), such as in the Holocaust. The difference is due to Singer and I counting only combat dead, including civilians caught in crossfires, whereas the much higher totals also count those murdered by governments during the war (democide). For example, the Nazis murdered about 21,000,000 people, including the Holocaust; the Japanese murdered about 6,000,000; and the Soviets about 13,000,000. Now, when you add such democide totals to those killed in combat, one comes close to the 50,000,000 to 60,000,000 often mentioned for the war.

Overall, both WWI and WWII together had about 24,000,000 (combat) war dead. Which leaves still many, and smaller, wars to go to reach my approximate 35,000,000. A total far below the near 110,000,000 killed [later revised to about 140,000,000] by Marxist governments

I did a thorough amalgamation of the estimates of war dead for each nation, 1900-1987, in the process of collecting democide data, and included them in my statistical tables. They can be found in my books Lethal Politics for the USSR, China’s Bloody Century, Democide for Nazi Germany, and Statistics of Democide for all the other nation’s war dead. For their location on my website, see my website’s list of documents.


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