How Many Have Died in U.S. Wars?

A wall of human stacked skulls.

How many people have died in U.S. wars? We seldom ask this question. When I asked Google, I found it hard to find a definitive answer. I did find a number for U.S. service members who died. The figure for “enemy combatants” and civilians deaths in U.S. wars is elusive if available.

Let’s start with civilians.

It is difficult to find numbers on civilian and “enemy” combatant deaths. However, researched estimates give us some indication of how many civilians die in wars. In his 2003 New York Times article titled, ‘ What Every Person Should Know About War,’ Chris Hedges states, “Americans and their allies typically cause 10 to 20 times more combat casualties than American forces suffer.”

Retired Army COL, Chief Prosecutor in the My Lai Massacre Cases and Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Missouri Kansas City Law School, Professor William G. Eckhardt, is a well-respected researcher on civilian deaths in war. In his March 1989 academic paper, Civilian Deaths in Wartime, Professor Eckhardt writes, “On the average, half of the deaths caused by war happened to civilians, only some of whom were killed by famine associated with war…” “The civilian percentage share of war-related deaths remained at about 50% from century to century.” (p. 97)

Recent U.S. wars, numbers from Watson Institute of Brown University These numbers are conservative.

About 157,000 people have died in the Afghanistan war since 2001. More than 43,000 of those killed have been civilians.

There have been over 182,000 Iraqi civilians killed by direct violence since the U.S. invasion.

U.S. Service Members

(Combat and in Theater Deaths)
Wikipedia 1,354,664
U.S. Government 966,689

A post on Wikipedia lists numbers for all the U.S. major wars and several military actions. That page’s total is 1,354,664. I don’t have full confidence in this number because I’m not sure how some of the figures are derived.

On the other hand, the U.S. government has published numbers for each major war and some conflicts. I found three sources, 1. Congressional Research Service American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics — Updated September 24, 2019, 2. Department of Veterans Affairs America’s Wars- November 2019, and 3. U.S. and Department of Defense Casualty Status as of June 1, 2020. The total from documents 2 and 3 is 966,689. The discrepancy is 387,975 deaths.

Why is there such a vast difference? The numbers in all three documents include Battle Deaths and Other Deaths In Theater. The most significant difference is in the Civil War numbers. The VA document cites 498,332 deaths. The Wikipedia figure for the Civil War is 655,000. That is a 156,668 difference. Based on the ongoing research and discussion I’ve seen on how many people died in the Civil War, Wikipedia number probably reflects a more accurate count of who died.

There are significant differences in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 numbers. The Wikipedia post also lists many actions and wars that I do not think the government numbers include.

The bottom line, way too many people have died in U.S. wars, especially since these wars were unnecessary. Let us continue to work so that we may put an end to any deaths due to U.S. wars.

Originally published at https://mtmdaily.com on June 4, 2020.

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