What? Only 34,000,000 20th Century Battle-dead?

January 30, 2009

[first published November 30, 2005] Over the years, I’ve run into considerable skepticism that only 34,000,000 have been killed in all domestic and foreign wars 1900-1987. My one source for 1900 to 1980 was Melvin Small and J. David Singer, Resort to Arms: International and Civil wars 1816-1980 , a statistical compilation of wars by nations involved, years for the start and end of war, duration, and battle deaths.

My second source was the updated Small and Singer list to 1992 in Daniel M. Jones, Stuart A. Bremer and J. David Singer (1996). “Militarized Interstate Disputes, 1816-1992: Rationale, Coding Rules, and Empirical Patterns.” Conflict Management and Peace Science, 15(2): 163:213.

The Correlations of War Project (COW Project) has further updated the list to 1997 for international wars here, and for domestic wars here.

This latest compilation not only brought the collection up to 1997, but also corrected earlier figures. For this 1900-1997, the battle dead in international wars was 31,292,858; for domestic wars, it was a minimum of 9,952,452. There is a difference in the basis for the two counts. For the first, the total is of military battle deaths, including deaths from combat wounds, and from diseases contracted in the theater of war. For the dead in domestic wars, however, COW includes both military and civilians.

One correction COW made was to reduce the number of battle dead in WWI from 9,000,000 to 8,578,031; for WWII COW increased the estimate of battle dead from 15,000,000 to 16,634,907. I should note that these data are the most authoritative for research in international relations and on war, and, far, the most used and quoted.

So, overall, from 1900 to 1997, at least 41,245,310 soldiers and some civilians (in domestic wars) were killed or died from wounds and disease. Compare this to my new total of 212,000,000 for all deaths from democide 1900-1999.

What about the often-mentioned 50,000,000-60,000,000 killed in WWII? Much of these 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; the Soviets about 13,000,000; and Chiang Kai Chek and Mao Tse-tung murdered additional millions. Then there was the firebombing of German and Japanese cities, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which I count as democide. When you add such democides to those killed in combat, one comes close to the 50,000,000 to 60,000,000 often mentioned for the war.

My view is this. In no way do I think that the deaths of those killed in combat between armed soldiers should be lumped together with those helpless civilians lined up against a wall and machine gunned, buried alive, raped and murdered, or burned alive in their homes. It is a conceptual fallacy to do so.

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 HYPERLINK “http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/LIST.HTM”list of documents here.

End war and democide by fostering freedom. It’s in the national interests of democracies and all our children.