There’s no question that everyone, regardless of identity and background, is affected by war. From the soldier heading off to the battlefield to the loved ones left behind at home, estimating the true ramifications of war is almost impossible. Battle and conflict is part of any country’s history; whether it’s an economic war or one fought on the field resulting in the loss of lives, war is a physically and emotionally brutal fact of life.
In the short history of the United States since the Revolutionary War of Independence, the nation has seen over a million deaths in war. From casualties in combat to mortal wounding, there’s a tragic story with a face, name, and personal story behind each of the numbers
Many critics of the United States today have viewed their entry into certain wars in a cynical light, with some saying the American government actually seeks out the opportunity to get involved in a war, for reasons other than the apparent defense of liberty. Whatever the motivation behind the wars, there is a cost to every battle that’s more than monetary: In November of 2013, StatisticBrain.com compiled information on the number of U.S. casualties per war, according to the Washington Post Database. The wars listed have had a significant impact on the history of the United States and many played a formative role in creating the country as we know it today. Whatever your opinion on the United States’ politics, these wars at least deserve recognition for the brave lives lost and casualties rendered.
10. Afghanistan – 2,229
Ongoing since 2001, America’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan represent an intervention, by NATO, in the Afghan civil war. This began after the tragic September 11th attacks, and U.S. intervention aimed to dismantle the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Technically, this war continues today, although in 2011 Barack Obama announced the drawback of troops from Afghanistan; a policy which aims to have American troops out of the country by the end of 2014.
9. Iraq War – 4,800
The Iraq War started in March of 2003 and “ended” in December of 2011 with the withdrawal of the US military troops. The invasion of Iraq – heavily objected to many Americans and anti-war protesters the world over – was the first phase of the war followed by a prolonged period of conflict. What caused the alleged invasion in the first place? Well, that is a bit controversial and the answers may vary depending on whom you ask. Commonly, the reason given was America’s belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s). Regardless of the cause of the war, the United States still had a casualty rate of 4,800 lives lost.
8. Mexican-American War – 13,283
Following the United States’ annexation of Texas in 1845, the Mexican-American war took place between 1846 and 1848. Texas gained its independence from Mexico in 1836. Initially, Congress didn’t want to annex the area because they were reluctant to add another slave state to the Union and didn’t want to ruffle Mexico’s feathers. But it was a war that was inevitable, and it helped shaped the continent into what it is today. The United States suffered over 13,000 losses of military personnel during the ordeal.
7. War of 1812 – 15,000
The year was 1812 and the United States was still a relatively young nation. Britain was still feeling the economic sting of losing the United States to the Revolutionary War. The British were attempting to inhibit U.S. trade with other countries and the United States Navy was fighting against this. In the midst of this particular war, Britain was also dealing with Napoleonic France, and both countries were trying to keep the United States from trading with the other. Along with the United States, Britain, and France, Canadian and Native American troops were also involved in the war, and one of the most notable battle moves was the burning of Washington D.C. in 1814. The war, which resolved many concerns and issues leftover from the Revolutionary War, tragically cost about 15,000 lives.
6. Revolutionary War – 25,000
No doubt it was a pivotal war that led to the birth of the United States. The Founding Fathers, who declared the Independence of the United States and made the world-altering decision to go to war against a massive military power, are of course hailed as American heroes. They risked their own lives as well as the lives of their families, friends, and allies, while the British red coats flooded in, attempting to claim the colonies as their own. The war lasted from 1775 to 1783, and was a successful rebellion which resulted in independence from the British Empire.
5. Korean War – 36,516
When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1850, President Harry Truman sent US troops to help South Korea, a move which convinced the United Nations to get involved as well. Under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, the American troops alongside troops deployed by the UN (mostly consisting of Americans) engaged in a tug of war of dominance against North Korea that would also involve China. In 1953, a truce was reached, but the Korean War still cost the United States over $50 billion and over 35,000 lives.
4. Vietnam War – 58,209
It was a war that influenced some of the largest anti-war movements of the 20th century, from hippie movements to wide scale protests. The Vietnam War is still controversial to this day with many considering it a crime, a mistake, or a fruitless endeavor that will remain in the history books as a tragedy.
It was certainly a tragedy for the hundreds of thousands affected directly by the loss of over 58,000 troops, many of whom were very young men who’d been drafted. Whether it was an attempt to be heroic for the people of Vietnam or whether there were political motivations, the Vietnam War brought out the best and the worst in people. Those who survived the war carried the scars and the inner turmoil for the remainder of their lifetimes.
3. World War I – 116,516
World War I started in 1914, but the United States did not become a formal participant in the war until 1917. During those three years, the US remained neutral while still supplying materials to Britain and other allies. The United States sent about 4 million men overseas to fight. Many men fell in the line of duty but the United States also lost about 43,000 from a flu epidemic which spread among the soldiers. US citizens were strongly divided in regards to their country’s involvement in the war, and when it was declared that the US would be involved, thousands of German Americans attempted to enter the Germany military.
2. World War II – 405,399
When World War II started in Europe in 1939, the United States tried to stay uninvolved as long as possible – until December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor when it was made clear that formal neutrality still left them vulnerable to attacks. Over 16 million people served in World War II, leaving many women and children without their husbands, fathers, and sons. Not only that, but the US was impacted economically with the absence of thousands of able-bodied men leaving women and the elderly to pick up the slack in the workplace. Between death in combat, prisoners of war and those who went MIA, World War II was a hard fought war that lost the United States over 405,000 men before the allies won their victory.
1. Civil War – 625,000
The combination of US casualties from World War I and II don’t even equate to the losses that were experienced during the Civil War. From brother against brother over the rights of states to the freeing of the slaves, this particular war was entirely fought on US soil and affected nearly every soul in the United States. In terms of economy and the loss of lives, the American Civil War was the most costly fight that the US ever encountered. Along with this enormous death toll of over 600,000 people there were also over 280,000 wounded in the four years of the war’s lifetime.