Thursday, March 25, 2010

More on World War II Casualties

Okay, this is a pretty grim post, but I think it's about something important that people need to understand.

This post started as a comment on the post Book Review: "On the Natural History of Destruction" by W.G. Sebald in response to Monique's observation that, "One forgets the extent of the devastation, and I suspect that many young people may think that it was mostly the Jews who died in WWII." I thought that was an interesting observation. I think it's important that everybody understands the size of the human disaster that was World War II. It's become fashionable in recent years to bash the United Nations. As far as I'm concerned, the main purpose of the UN is to make sure that something as bad as World War II -- or worse -- never happens again. And in that regard it has been a complete success to date.

There's a pretty good table of all World War II deaths by country on Wikipedia. I know a lot of the individual statistics can be argued up or down, but it looked like a reasonable accurate tally to me:

A few appalling notes:

--Somewhere between 60 and 80 million people died in World War II.
--Estimates of the Holocaust per this Wiki article come in at around 5.1 million to 6 million Jews, about 80% of all European Jews. Elsewhere I've seen estimates as high as 7 million. It's hard to sort out despite the meticulous Nazi record-keeping because somewhere around another 8-12 million others -- Soviet citizens and POWs, Poles, Gypsies, handicapped, homosexuals, etc., also died by execution or in German concentration camps.
--Nearly 25 million residents of the Soviet Union died, about 13.5% of their total population.
--Somewhere between 10 and 20 million Chinese died, between 2% and 4% of their total population.
--Nearly 6 million Poles died, about 16%-17% of their population.
--Somewhere between 6.8 million and 8.5 million Germans died, about 8%-10% of the German population.
--About 2.7 million Japanese died, nearly 4% of their total population.
--800,000 Greeks died, more than 11% of their population.
--Other countries in Europe and Asia that probably saw 5% or more of their population die include: Hungary, French Indochina, Latvia, Lithuania, Nauru, the Phlippines, Portugese Timor, and Yugoslavia.
--449,800 residents of the United Kingdom died, nearly 1% of their population.
--418,500 Americans died, about .32% of our population at the time. A comparable percentage of deaths now would be nearly a million Americans. The only greater war toll in American history came from the US Civil War, during which more than 200,000 soldiers were killed in action and a total of more than 620,000 soldiers died.

One last note to add is that the items above are just a list of deaths. That doesn't include the larger numbers of survivors who were wounded, displaced, tortured, starved, impoverished, or otherwise harmed by the war.

Not a very cheery post, I fear. But it's an important one to keep in mind.

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