early wars were small affairs, almost quaint, it
Washington fought on the cheap, in lives and money.
We lost 4,435 Americans in combat during the
Revolutionary War. Another 6,188 were wounded.
Adjusted for inflation, (in today’s George
Washingtons), we spent just $3.2 billion parting
company with the British—not enough to buy pair of
tricked-out aircraft carriers.
War of 1812 was, relatively speaking, just a
skirmish—2,260 American combat deaths, 4,505
incidents of wounding. The tab was just $1 billion.
(The White House was burned down in that one.
I don’t think that number includes re-building.)
Mexican War (1846-1848) was just a dust-up, too:
1733 Americans killed in combat, an estimated 11,550
combat-related deaths, and 4152 inflicted wounds. We
could have passed the hat and paid for that
didn’t get really dangerous and expensive for
Americans until the advances and wonders of the
Industrial Age were introduced into the fray. Combat
deaths during the Civil War shocked sensibilities on
both sides. It is hard to comprehend now, but more
Americans fell in single battles, more fell at Antietam,
more fell at Shiloh, more fell at Gettysburg, than
were killed in our first three wars combined.
Americans shoot Americans, the numbers—and the
bodies—add up quickly. Union casualties totaled
634,703—110,070 combat deaths, 249,458 related
deaths (disease mostly, but also the medical
treatments at the time, starvation, and so on), and
275,175 wounded. Relatively speaking, things were
worse south of Mason’s and Dixon’s line—74,524
Confederate combat deaths, 124,000 related deaths
(including those who succumbed to weariness and
heartbreak), 137,000 wounded.
killed-in-action rate was nearly two-to-one in the
South. Seven percent of the Confederate combatants
were casualties in combat—a lethality no other war
has come close to approaching, before or since. (The
rate for Americans in World War II was less than two
percent.) We did make the Yanks out spend us
though—better than two-to-one. The Civil War was
expensive--$72 billion—more than ten times the
combined cost of our first three conflicts.
is an anomaly to the way we Americans think of war
that has always bothered me. I’ll address it here.
It concerns how we equip our soldiers. We insist,
and rightly so, on equipping our soldiers with
“the best ,” yet we make-believe that we can do
that with low-bid contracts. Some of us do. Un-uunh.
I don’t believe it. Never have.)
Spanish American War hardly qualifies as "war"—385
combat deaths, 2,062 related ones, 1,662 wounded, a
tab of something less than $7 billion.
terms of technology, World War I was an extension of
"the late unpleasantness"--we still
outfitted U. S. Army mules and horses in WW I--with
53,513 Americans dying in combat, 63,195 dying as a
subsequent result of combat, and 204,002 wounded.
But it was long-distance, and expensive—nearly
War II was Sherman’s concept of "total
war" on a stunning scale: 292,131 American
combat deaths, another 115,185 related fatalities,
670,846 wounded, and a dollar cost of nearly $5
"forgotten war" came in Korea. It was a
deadly place for Americans—33,651 "forgotten"
deaths, 103,284 "forgotten" wounded. That
"conflict" cost $408 billion.
Vietnam, 58,168 Americans died. Another 153,303 were
wounded. We forked over $584 billion in that one.
Gulf War claimed 293 American dead and 467 wounded.
We spent $82 billion there. What’s the total so
far? Forget the money. The human toll is grisly, and
sobering: 1,196,612 American dead, 1,560,384
American wounded. And, generally, we were the
winners. Imagine the losers’ losses (Soviet losses
alone in WW II exceeded 10 million).
course, these numbers are incomplete. They do not
include the "Indian Wars" (or even the
Indians, those first Americans), or the "Barbary
Wars," or scores of American military
"operations" around the world—in
far-flung places like the Marquesas Islands, the
West Indies, Sumatra, Samoa, Nicaragua, Haiti,
Lebanon, Cuba, Grenada, El Salvador, Honduras,
Libya, Panama, and others. American soldiers died in
all of them.
do these numbers include on-going operations in
Afghanistan and Iraq. Those bloody meters are still
running. As of May 24, 1,704 American soldiers have
died there. This is not a political column, though
politics is always a contributing—sometimes
the—factor in war. There is no "for" or
"against" here, no slant, no partisanship.
This is not about "liberal" and
lay all of that aside for the moment. This is about
Americans we contemplate—not Democrats, not
Republicans—but Americans, our war dead we
June 6, 2005