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Humankind knew many wars, as long as it exist tribes, peoples, countries and different interest groups entered war against each other in order to obtain resources, get power or to resolve other certain social, ethnic, politic or economic tensions. It is practically impossible to estimate total war casualties but they are likely to be hundreds of million or even several billion people. Somewhat precise estimation can be made regarding wars conducted in Medieval and Modern ages. These estimations clearly show that World War II, which involved a majority of the world's nations and directly and indirectly caused death of between 40 and 72 million people, is deadliest war ever.
This paper proves that World War II was the deadliest war ever by comparing total casualties count of bloodiest wars in human history and provides reason why World War II became the most infamous among them.
War casualty statistics may vary greatly mostly because of incomplete data due to its destruction during war or subsequent times and/or failure of contemporaries to document them properly. However, sometimes distortions occur due to political reasons, when governments tend to overstate or understate casualties for some reason.
Also approaches to the calculation may vary due to number of reasons. First is category of deaths counted: it may be military personal only or together with civilians. Second, is the evidence of death: it may be evidenced deaths only or as well missing people. Also death may be included or not due to death causes, which vary greatly including: military battle deaths (KIA) and personnel missing in action (MIA), civilians deaths resulting from strategic bombings, deaths of both civilians and military caused by wounds, epidemics, problems with medicine, destroyed infrastructure (e.g. freezing due to destroyed heating systems in North cities) and famine caused by war, persecutions related to warfare, as well as massacres and genocide. Also war may cause riots, revolutions and/or civil wars, as for example was in Russia during World War I, when exhaustion caused by war sparkled public indignation, leading to series of revolutions and the civil war.
Ten Deadliest Wars
This paragraph provides short description of the wars with average estimates exceeding 20 mln people.
World War II (1939-1945) – the 20th century war involving majority of the nations with battlefields across the world. Estimates of the war deaths vary in the range 50-72 mln people (White: 1). According to the higher estimates, total military dead amount to 25 million (17 mln of Allied forces and 8 mln of Axis forces), including deaths of 4 million military prisoners. Most of the military losses incurred 4 countries totaling around 90% of total military deaths: Soviet Union – 11 mln, Germany – 5.5 mln, China – 4 mln and Japan – 2 mln. Civilians deaths amount more than 45 million (42 mln of Allied countries and 3 mln of Axis countries), with approximately 20 million from war-related disease and famine, while the rest – as a result of war actions, including tactical bombings (approximately 1 mln), genocide (including Holocaust victims of approximately 6 million), repressions and other war. More than have of civilian deaths relate to China (16 mln) and Soviet Union (12.4 mln). In China 4 million civilians died fighting, around 4 mln – as a result of Japanese war crimes and around 6 mln were repressed by Chinese government. In Soviet Union approximately 7.4 million became victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals (including 2 mln deported to work in Germany and 1 mln Holocaust victims) and 4 mln died of famine and diseases. Total military dead: about 25 million, including deaths in captivity of about 4 million prisoners of war. Axis dead: approximately 11 million; Allied dead: about 61 million.
. This war conflict had the largest geography and involved more peoples than any other war. Parties widely used large variety of types of arm, including, but not limited to, infantry, navy, tanks, air forces, artillery and even nuclear weapon. Besides military battles, it included strategic bombings that incurred civilian deaths, wide span of genocide against Jews and Roma, and was accompanied by famine and diseases. All this factors, including geography, used armament, warfare techniques, war crimes and side factors caused the largest death count in the warfare history.
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An Shi Rebellion (755-763) – medieval warfare in China. Estimates of the war deaths vary in the range 33-36 mln people. The rebellion started by An Lushan a military leader of Iranian-Turkish origin during the Tang Dynasty in China aimed to overthrow Tang Dynasty and establish own Yan Dynasty. spanned the reigns of three emperors, starting during the reign of Xuanzong and ending during the reign of Daizong. The toll of dead comes from the decline of the population as revealed by censuses of that time. Such amount of casualties (about 2/3 of total China population) was caused by the fact that population of that time were farmers, who due to poor technology of that time lived at the very edge of starvation and strongly depended on irrigation systems. Therefore a disruption resulting from war and destruction of irrigation systems, related to military logistics, caused a massive die-off. Another reason was density of population, which in circumstances of the weak medicine and pandemic , common for war times, lead to such sharp reduction in population..
Mongol and Tatar invasions (1207- late 14th) – Mongol and Tatar invasions in Asia, Europe, Middle East. Estimates of the war deaths vary in the range 30-60 mln people. This is rather a group of war conflicts related to establishment of Mongol Empire, its expansion and series of conflicts with neighbors as well as suppressing rebellions with the Empire. First stage of this series, was conducted by Genghis Khan, who in 1206 united once separate Mongol tribes into Mongol Empire and pronounced himself an Emperor. Under his ruling Mongols invaded Western and Northern China, Manchuria, Siberia and then headed to Central Asia, Eastern Persia and the Caucasus. At Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, the Mongol Empire was from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea, being twice the size of the Roman Empire and Muslim Caliphate. Following his death, Ogedei Khan, in 1229 became Mongol Emperor and continued expanding Mongol until his death in 1241, defeating Chinese Jin Dynasty, conquering part of India, annexing Korea, the capturing Caucuses (Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia), invaded Europe, conquering Kiev Rus, Poland, Hungary and reaching as far as Austria. Following expansions were not so significant however all history of Mongol Empire up to its fall in late 14th century was marked by the wars on boarders of the Empire as well as suppression of rebellions in itself. Though know mass destruction weapons were used, warfare included multiple armies of infantry, archers and cavalierly, many casualties were brought by wounds, pandemics and famine. Another reason for enormous death count was policy of extermination, where mass killings of captured peoples, that resisted Mongols, were common in order to prevent rebellions, intimidate others people and to encourage them to surrender without any resistance. Technically this warfare is rather a series of war, rather than a single war. However, altogether they represent one of the largest military conflicts in the history with a total headcount ranging between 30 and 60 mln deaths (White: 1).
Manchu conquest of the Ming Dynasty (1616-1662) – Qing Dynasty in China. Estimates of the war deaths approximate 25 mln people. In 1616 Nurhaci proclaimed himself Khan of Manchu people establishing Qing Dynasty (or Later Jin Dynasty, as opposed to 12th century Jin Dynasty). He began to rebel against the Ming Dynasty domination, which was at that time already weakened. Conflict with Ming Dynasty, which escalated number of warfare, lasted almost three decades until 1640 when mass rebels of Chinese peasants in Ming Dynasty, caused by famine and high taxes, were used by Manchu forces, leading to capturing Beijing, Ming Capital. However residual Ming forces continued to resist in other Chinese strongholds and were completely eliminated only in 1662. Almost 50 years war, related rebels, famines and pandemics caused almost 25 mln losses in that war, being 17% of the China’s population (McFarlane: 84).
World War I (1914-1918) – – the early 20th century war involving many nations with battlefields across the world. Estimates of the war deaths exceed 15 mln people (Willmott: 307). The total number of deaths included about 9 million military personnel and about 6 million civilians. World War I was characterized by utilization of new arms such as machine guns, chemical weapons, aviation, and tanks. Previously used artillery, including shrapnel, land mines, navy and hand weapons were significantly improved by that time. At the same time medicine care was far from the levels of World War II and number of qualified doctors and nurses was quite constraint. These factors multiplied by the scale of the war caused significant losses on battlefields and in hospitals. As in all previous cases the war was accompanied by famine and diseases. Moreover, it should be noted that World War I, coincided with and partially nourished outbreak of Spanish Influenza, which took 50-100 mln people lives, although only portion of these deaths may be attributed to the World War I, it may considerably increase the toll.
Modern age wars made significant advance in technology of extermination. At the same time war brings to civilians same catastrophes – diseases, famine and massacre.
Some of the medieval warfare resulted in significant losses, often leading to the extinguishment of considerable portion of the population, these wars were mostly accompanied by massacres, famine and pandemics, which often accounted for major portion of deaths. However, 20th century World War II won an infamous first place in number of victims.