When looking at the impact wartime has on a nation and the world, there are both the economic and human costs. Governments often fail to consider the human costs until in the aftermath of war.
In World War I, 1914-1918, the direct costs of the war were in the neighborhood of $150 million.
The human cost was 37 million individuals for those involved directly in the conflict and an additional 10 million in civilian populations. While many thought this devastation would end the threat of world conflict, an American statesman and future President, Woodrow Wilson, made the following prophetic statement.
“The war we have just been through, though it was shot through with terror, is not to be compared with the war we would have to face next time.”
Mr. Wilson was right. In World War II, 1941-1945, the second ‘war to end all wars’, over 72 million people lost their lives, 46 million military and 26 million civilians. Some countries, such as Germany, lost over 10% of their total population. In the midst of this, was the horror of the Jewish genocide, accounting for 6 million of the losses. Over 50 countries participated in the loss of life.
Still, the conflicts and the losses mounted. Loss of life in the Korean War, sometimes called the forgotten war, was almost 2.5 million in military personnel and many more in the civilian population.
In the Vietnam War, some 1,250,000 active personnel were loss with many more civilians. This was an unusual conflict, in that children and other civilians were used as shields or pressed into service as human bombs to fend off invading armies. The psychological casualties of those who experienced this and survived are immeasurable.
In more recent times, the mass genocide within countries has accounted for great losses of life. The horror in Rwanda between the Tutsis and the Hutu brought about the death of over 800,000 Tutsi in 100 days. Sadly, the rest of the world stood back and watched ignoring the lessons they had learned from the likes of Hitler and Idi Amin. Saddam Hussein, amongst his many atrocities, ordered the chemical deaths of 400,000 Kurds. Numerous examples exist of ruthless dictators that isolate a sub-population within their own country and disguise their prejudice under some rhetoric that justifies these mass homicides.
Not totaled into the numbers above are the losses that occurred and continue to occur, due to terrorist activity. Civilian losses are realized every minute of every day as those who believe in random violence as a tool for change wreak their havoc worldwide.
War as a means of resolving conflict is almost as old as man himself. Can the world survive without the use of armed conflict? It would appear, that history has taught that we cannot. But history has also shown us the cost to humanity, and that we must choose carefully when and how we must resort to war. Let us weigh heavily the potential for loss, before we begin to experience it. If we do, the lives of those who have died before would not have been in vain.