No, Not 50-60Mil. War dead. It Was 15 Million

April 25, 2009

[First published April 11, 2005] I recently came across a reference to the number killed in World War II to about 60,000,000. This figure, or one lower at about 55,000,000 is not uncommonly mentioned. But, these figures are wrong and way too high. The correct count is closer to 15,000,000, but when I use this figure I get emails like one that said—“Your total inaccurate and detracts from your credibility.”

What confuses people is the way war dead are often counted. The most authoritative sources, widely relied in the field of war studies, are the statistical books of J. David Singer (See his Correlates of War Project here). His figure for World War II war dead is 15,000,000. Crazy, right? You often read figures like those I mentioned, and here is an authoritarive source which gives a figure only 25 to 30 percent of that usuallygiven. Even more confusing about this is that the World War II death toll for the Soviet Union is widely accepted as about 20,000,000. What gives?

What has caused these massive disparities is the confusion between those killed in combat and its crossfire, and those murdered by governments during the war (democide). Aside from battle or military engagements, during the war the Nazis murdered around 20,000,000 civilians and prisoners of war, the Japanese 5,890,000, the Chinese Nationalists 5,907,000, the Chinese communists 250,000, the Nazi satellite Croatians 655,000, the Tito Partisans 600,000, and Stalin 13,053,000 (above the 20,000,000 war-dead and democide by the Nazis of Soviet Jews and Slavs). I also should mention the indiscriminate democidal bombing of civilians by the Allies that murdered hundreds of thousands, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of these dead are usually included among the war-dead. But those killed in battle versus in democide form distinct conceptual and theoretical categories and should not be confused. That they have been consistently confounded helps raise the toll during World War II to some 60,000,000 people, way above Singer and my estimated 15,000,000 killed in battle and military action. And that the almost universally accepted count of genocide (a form of democide) during this period is no more than “6,000,000” Jews, around 13 percent of the total wartime democide, has further muddled research and thought.

Overall, both World War I and World War II had about 24,000,000 (combat) war dead. This leaves still many, and smaller, wars to go to reach my approximate 35,000,000 war dead 1900-1987. I did a through search of the estimates of war dead for each nation, 1900-1987, and you can find them in my books Lethal Politics for the U.S.S.R., China’s Bloody Century, Democide for Nazi Germany, and for all others, Statistics of Democide. For their location on my website, see my list of documents

Good to clear that up. I trust I won’t see those highly inflated World War II war dead totals again.

Link of Note

”Why Not Here” (2/26/05)

By David Brooks [only available for purchase at The New York Times]
From Colleague: Along with the idea of memes and the zeitgeist, here’s a good oped by David Brooks. I especially like his mention of the argument that US foreign policy is at its best when it is not accommodating, but “maximalist” for freedom….Another reason to be grateful that John “Rodney King” Kerry ain’t president!

Brooks says:

[Why not here] This is the most powerful question in the world today: Why not here? People in Eastern Europe looked at people in Western Europe and asked, Why not here? People in Ukraine looked at people in Georgia and asked, Why not here? People around the Arab world look at voters in Iraq and ask, Why not here?

Thomas Kuhn famously argued that science advances not gradually but in jolts, through a series of raw and jagged paradigm shifts. Somebody sees a problem differently, and suddenly everybody’s vantage point changes.

“Why not here?” is a Kuhnian question, and as you open the newspaper these days, you see it flitting around the world like a thought contagion.

Wherever it is asked, people seem to feel that the rules have changed. New possibilities have opened up.

The question is being asked now in Lebanon. Walid Jumblatt made his much circulated observation to David Ignatius of The Washington Post: “It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.”

So now we have mass demonstrations on the streets of Beirut. A tent city is rising up near the crater where Rafik Hariri was killed, and the inhabitants are refusing to leave until Syria withdraws. The crowds grow in the evenings; bathroom facilities are provided by a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts and a Virgin Megastore.
The head of the Syrian Press Syndicate told The Times on Thursday: “There’s a new world out there and a new reality. You can no longer have business as usual.”

Meanwhile in Palestine, after days of intense pressure, many of the old Arafat cronies are out of the interim Palestinian cabinet. Fresh, more competent administrators have been put in. “What you witnessed is the real democracy of the Palestinian people,” Saeb Erakat said to Alan Cowell of The Times. As Danny Rubinstein observed in the pages of Ha’aretz, the rules of the game have changed.

Then in Iraq, there is actual politics going on. The leaders of different factions are jostling. The tone of the coverage ebbs and flows as more or less secular leaders emerge and fall back, but the amazing thing is the politics itself. If we had any brains, we’d take up Reuel Marc Gerecht’s suggestion and build an Iraqi C-Span so the whole Arab world could follow this process like a long political soap opera.

It’s amazing in retrospect to think of how much psychological resistance there is to asking this breakthrough question: Why not here? We are all stuck in our traditions and have trouble imagining the world beyond. As Claus Christian Malzahn reminded us in Der Spiegel online this week, German politicians ridiculed Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech in 1987. They “couldn’t imagine that there might be an alternative to a divided Germany.”

But if there is one soft-power gift America does possess, it is this tendency to imagine new worlds. As Malzahn goes on to note, “In a country of immigrants like the United States, one actually pushes for change. … We Europeans always want to have the world from yesterday, whereas the Americans strive for the world of tomorrow.”

Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote an important essay for this page a few weeks ago, arguing that American diplomacy is often most effective when it pursues not an incrementalist but a “maximalist” agenda, leaping over allies and making the crude, bold, vantage-shifting proposal – like pushing for the reunification of Germany when most everyone else was trying to preserve the so-called stability of the Warsaw Pact.
As Sestanovich notes, and as we’ve seen in spades over the past two years in Iraq, this rashness – this tendency to leap before we look – has its downside. Things don’t come out wonderfully just because some fine person asks, Why not here?
But this is clearly the question the United States is destined to provoke. For the final thing that we’ve learned from the papers this week is how thoroughly the Bush agenda is dominating the globe. When Bush meets with Putin, democratization is the center of discussion. When politicians gather in Ramallah, democratization is a central theme. When there’s an atrocity in Beirut, the possibility of freedom leaps to people’s minds.

Not all weeks will be as happy as this one. Despite the suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq, the thought contagion is spreading. Why not here?

Freedom's Website Never Again Series

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 “”list of documents here.

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