US War Deaths per Day by Conflict (War, Battle) and How Iraq Compares

These should be in order chronologically and it’s admittedly a little weighted toward the Pacific Theater of World War II. In case you don’t want to read to the bottom, Iraq: 3,973 deaths in 1,806 days, 2.2 deaths/day.

Event US Deaths Duration Deaths/Day
Lexington & Concord (Revolution) 50 1 day 50.0
Estimated death count (US only).
Battle of Saratoga (Revolution) 800 2 days 400.0
Estimated death count (US only, obviously).
Battle of New Orleans (1812) 37 2 days 18.5
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate).
Mexican-American War 1,733 730 days 2.4
Wikipedia doesn’t have such a good read on this one. Deaths include only killed-in-action combattants on the US side.
Bull Run/Manassas I (Civil) 847 1 day 847.0
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate).
Battle of Shiloh (Civil) 3,482 2 days 1,741.0
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate).
Bull Run/Manassas II (Civil) 3,000 3 days 1,000.0
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate). Death total is estimated.
Antietam/Sharpsburg (Civil) 3,654 1 days 3,654.0
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate).
Battle of Gettysburg (Civil) 7,863 3 days 2,621.0
Includes deaths on both sides (Union and Confederate).
San Juan Hill (Span-Am) 124 1 day 124.0
Estimated death count (US only, obviously).
Battle of Belleau Wood (WW1) 1,811 26 days 69.7
One of the most important battles in US Marine Corps lore, spawned the (reputed) quotes of “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” and “Come on, you sons of bitches, you want to live forever?”. It’s also cited as the source of the nickname “devil dogs” often applied to US Marines (as German soldiers purportedly began to refer to the marines as Teufelhunde).
Battle of Midway (WW2) 307 4 days 76.8
Includes only US deaths.
Battle of Guadalcanal (WW2) 7,099 187 days 38.0
Includes all Allied deaths and nearly all of those were US. The majority of deaths were inflicted on naval personnel (4,911) — the US didn’t have the most universally brilliant admirals at the onset of WW2.
Battle of Tarawa (WW2) 990 4 days 247.5
Back when people had still heard of “Tarawa”, it was known as “Bloody Tarawa”. There was an Academy Award-winning short made about it, With the Marines at Tarawa.
Invasion of Normandy (WW2) 1,465 40 days 36.6
(Commonly referred to as “D-Day”, despite the fact that D-Day is a generic term. Oh well.) Deaths for all Allied combatants was around 2,700 (includes British and Canadians).As the Normandy Invasion wasn’t exactly a discreet action, I’m estimating the end to have been, as Wikipedia suggests, “mid-July” (I used July 15, 1944).
Battle of Saipan (WW2) 2,949 25 days 118.0
Includes only US killed-in-action (not missing).
Battle of Peleliu (WW2) 2,336 72 days 86.5
Note to military planners: don’t give an invasion a name like “Operation Stalemate” again.
Battle of the Bulge (WW2) 19,276 41 days 470.1
Includes only US deaths.
Battle of Iwo Jima (WW2) 6,821 35 days 194.9
Most iconic battle of the Pacific; but it was neither the most “intense” in terms of death rate (Tarawa), nor in terms of number of deaths (Okinawa). Still, 1.7x the number of deaths in Iraq in less than 1/50th the time.
Battle of Okinawa (WW2) 12,513 98 days 127.7
Deaths figure is actually “dead or missing” and includes all Allied combatants (although there were few non-American combatants involved among Allied forces), but no civilians.
Korean War 36,516 1,128 days 32.4
Includes US combatants killed-in-action only. Do people even remember that there *was* a Korean war?
Vietnam War 58,209 3,353 days 17.4
Includes only US killed-in-action (not missing).
Gulf War I 358 210 days 1.7
Deaths include only killed-in-action and are for all allied combatants.
Iraq War & Occupation 3,973 1,806 days 2.2
Duration and deaths are as of March 1, 2008 and include only US military deaths. “Start Date” for Iraq war considered to be March 20, 2003. If this is the current generation’s Vietnam, then the current generation is getting off very, very easily.

Also worth considering is that the US was a much smaller country (population-wise) in these earlier conflicts. The US population in 1940 was 132 million (less than half of today’s estimated population of 303 million). The US population in 1860 (just prior to the Civil War) was only 31 million.

If you need a finer point put on this: the number of American troops killed in our (almost) five-year adventure in Iraq is about the same as the number of American troops who died in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) IN ONE DAY. Given that today’s US population is just over 9x that of the 1860 population, the current Iraq conflict has about 1/15,000th the relative death intensity of the Battle of Antietam (= 1 / ((3654.0 deaths/day / 2.2 deaths/day ) * (303.1 million population / 33.4 million population)) = 1/15,072 ). Or, other way around, the Battle of Antietam was relatively 15,000 times as bad as the current Iraq war (in terms of death rate and impact on the relative population).

If we wanted to go deeper, I could figure out what the death rate for civilians between 18 and 25 has been during the years of the Iraq war and discount the rate accordingly — but I’d also have to do that for the other battles and wars and I’ve spent enough of my Saturday on this already.

My point: I think the media should be required to report all of the above any time they report the number of deaths in the Iraq War+Occupation to date. Even better, news consumers should DEMAND this (not that they ever would). But perspective should matter. The rational reason Iraq is a crappy situation has more to do with how we’re destroying our own economy for the sake of making everyone in the world hate us than it does with the ferocity of the fighting and dying. As war deaths go, Iraq’s been relatively gentle. Our country should be making its foreign policy decisions based on clear objectives, rational analysis, and items of statistical significance, not on the media’s unwillingness to disseminate reason.

Thanks,

bkd

(Virtually all figures are from Wikipedia and are sourced there.)

About Brian Dunn

More solipsistic than most.
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14 Responses to US War Deaths per Day by Conflict (War, Battle) and How Iraq Compares

  1. Game Dame says:

    A few comments.

    1) Wikipedia is not considered a legitimate source of information for school research. Just so ya know.

    2) My argument against your last paragraph is this:

    a) We have much better technology and medicine today than we had during the other “conflicts” you mention which can account for fewer deaths “per day,” as you’ve chosen to list them. Comparison of this technology (medical and otherwise) is almost impossible to account for. If we had the same medical care and weapons they had during Gettysburg, what would the casualty rate be, and vice versa? Think about it, it’s an ugly desert war. It would be an ugly death count.

    b) We have a much smaller army (per capita, since you mentioned it) than we’ve had at any other time in our history. Compare the size of the army to the size of its losses to be more fair. That is, calculate PERCENT of personnel lost rather than losses per day.

    c) In the current situation, we are in theory only fighting one “enemy” country. If you look at the World Wars, where your totals are highest, we were fighting not only against multiple countries, but traveling through those countries, the weather (winter anyone?), and diseases that can be cured now. We were fighting organized armies with tanks and flanks and lines and fox holes. Can an IED really compare to that kind of artillery?

    d) The beginning of the Iraq war was also fought mostly by air. It would be interesting to see how the per-day numbers go up if you start from the first day of the ground-based war. Admittedly, they won’t go up enough to eclipse much of what you’ve listed, but they will indeed go up.

    See? Slant happens. Even when you don’t think you’re doing it.

    Lastly, do you think that this discussion right here (what you’ve said and what I’ve said) would really be understood or even attended to by the folks who watch the mass media that you’re critiquing? Seriously, they would switch over to American Hotrod in about 5 seconds. Since we have a “news” system that’s based on ratings and advertising, by its very nature it panders to the lowest possible IQ in the name of the almighty god Entertainment. This fact must be accounted for when analyzing how and what the media reports.

  2. bkdunn says:

    GD — Thanks for offering some counter-arguments. Seriously, it’s nice to have someone bring up some counter-points for once. Here’s my response:

    1. Sorry, I’m lazy. :) (Although, FWIW, the casualty figures on the ‘pedia for battles that I’m pretty familiar with — Guadalcanal and Okinawa — cited very reputable sources that I’ve used in my personal research.)

    2a. Right. I think my thesis didn’t get expressed clearly enough. People seem to get panicky about the growing death count. But the death count is growing relatively slowly. Ergo, it seems like the wrong thing to get upset about. If the war’s worth fighting, the cost of human life in this one is very minimal relative to past engagements. If the war’s to be criticized, then let’s criticize it for something where its poor qualities are egregious.

    2b. I disagree on a couple levels.

    2b-1. First off, there have been circa (couldn’t find a good number, if someone else has one, thanks) 300,000 US troops involved in the current Iraq war, out of which 3,973 have died. At the Battle of Antietam, there were 132,000 involved — less than half the number, even though the death counts were similar. And all the deaths at Antietam happened over the course of ONE DAY. The Battle of Okinawa had 548,000 Allied combatants — not quite twice as many as Iraq — yet the death toll was 3x over the course of three months. Understandably, I’m comparing a “mere battle” to an “entire war”, but I’m guessing that if we look exclusively at the Battle of Basra, we’d see similar numbers hold.

    2b-2. I strongly disagree, though, that the percentage of *combatants* killed is the important number. The complaint I’m issuing here is in regard to the homefront perception of the degree of tragedy being experienced in the given war. The current Iraq war has brought about the death of 0.001% of the US population. One out of every 75,000 (roughly) Americans has died in this war. So if you personally know 37,500 people, odds are 50-50 you know someone who’s died in Iraq and can claim to have been personally affected. (I have 96 people on my LinkedIn network, so I’m guessing I’m not even close to personally knowing 37,500 people — but then again, I’m a hermit.) In one battle in Europe, the Battle of the Bulge, 0.015% of the US population died, 1 out of 6,847 people. This means that it was 10 TIMES more likely that an American personally knew someone who died in the Battle of the Bulge than it is that an American personally knows someone who’s died in Iraq. In WW2 overall, 416,800 US combatants died — 0.39% of the US population, one out of ever 317 people. I can understand how *that* ratio might throw a nation into a tizzy. Relative to 1-in-317, 1-in-75,000 is a minor blip, statistically speaking.

    But even if it *were* about the number of combatants, the numbers still point to Iraq being underwhelming as conflicts go. Heck, Vietnam: 553K US troops sent (not quite 2x the number in Iraq), 58,209 dead — 15x the number in Iraq and over 10% of US participants.

    2c. I don’t see where this counters my argument. If FDR had shown the requisite gumption to tell Churchill that Europe could hang themselves while we went and took care of America’s problems (read: the Pacific Theater), we probably would have seen far fewer casualties than we received fighting two simultaneous wars. But he didn’t and we didn’t, therefore 416,800 US servicemen and servicewomen died in the war, completely dwarfing the relative impact of Iraq.

    2d. That’s true and, admittedly, the “per-day” rate is a little unfair to consider when comparing a battle like Bull Run I to a protracted engagement like Iraq has turned out to be. Still, the death rate in Iraq has been very minor when compared to the our country’s other protracted engagements (Vietnam, Korea, WW2, etc.).

    3. I don’t think the numbers are slanty, although, yes, there are other metrics that could be considered (e.g., I think a comparison of deaths per day against actual benefit of the campaign might be an interesting one where Iraq’s results start looking less hot — although that would lead to a horrifying debate about what the “benefits” of any war under consideration may or may not have been). In terms of total deaths, deaths per day, and deaths as a percentage of the US population, ignoring the value of the war itself, the Iraq War has been relatively very minor. I don’t see how that’s debatable.

    4. Heh. Well, I agree 100% — the objectivity-challenged evening news watchers of the world aren’t going to be moved by anything not already being sponsored by Coca-Cola. (That’s a slight hyperbole, yes. And if anyone at Coke wants to advertise on my blog, just let me know what you’d like to see retracted!) But I’m pretty used to cursing the darkness anyway — it seems to be what I was born to do.

    Thanks again,

    bkd

  3. Game Dame says:

    LOL… I will call my contacts at Coke for you!

    Nice to read your follow ups. I did hear on NPR the other day that the Iraq war has been the cause of more brain-related injuries and resulted in more amputees than other wars (on some scale that I’ve completely forgotten since I was probably cursing out some other O.C. driver while listening). That’s the medical care issue. Folks with those types of injuries would’ve died in early 20th century wars.

    Isn’t that weird to say? “Early 20th century.” God, I’m old.

  4. bkdunn says:

    That would be another interesting thing to look at — evaluate all the non-fatal casualties and assign a “quality of life” discount to them somehow. For instance, life with both legs missing might be worth only 65% of life with both attached, therefore should be counted as .35 of a death. Could also take into consideration age of the deceased combatants and compare that to the then-current life expectancy — if the average age of the deceased was 25 and the average life expectancy was 65, that seems less tragic than an average deceased age of 20 with an average life expectancy of 70. Wonder if anyone offers a PhD in valid-but-futile statistical analysis…

  5. Game Dame says:

    Aren’t they called “actuaries”?

  6. bkdunn says:

    “Actuaries”, eh? They sound miserable. BTW, this page is ranking #7 for “iraq war deaths per day”, fwiw.

  7. Jimmy L. Shirley Jr. says:

    This death count has also been a point of contention by me.

    A little over a year ago, I calculated what the death toll would be in today’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan if the same death toll during the Southern Independence War to the ratio to the then population was what we were suffering with today’s population. The number I came up with in what was then a four year old war, was a little over 1,000,000 dead per year, which would be more than 19,000 dead per week, which would be more than 2,700 dead per day.

    With these numbers, surely even the dumbed down U.S. public would have been screaming “bloody murder” in the first week and the conflict would have been suspended. Since WWII, the American public has no taste for blood, no patience for persevering.

    FYI, my youngest son, 29, while on his third deployment, was blown up in Iraq and lost his right arm and right leg back on 20 December 2006. He is still at Walter Reed recovering and going through both physical and mental therapy to prepare him for life after.

  8. bkdunn says:

    Thanks for the comment.

    Sorry to hear about your son. Hope from here on out he gets all the luck he’s got coming to him.

    bkd

  9. okinawa says:

    I thought that the deaths in Okinawa were much higher? I recently went down to the cornerstone of peace: http://www.hdrjapan.com/japan/southern-okinawa/peace-prayer-park/ …where they claim that “In 1945, the government collected the ashes of the deceased and placed them in the mausoleum on Mabuni Hill. More than 180,000 are at rest there.”

  10. bkdunn says:

    I’m only citing American combat deaths. I found another source that lists 2,938 marines dead or missing, 4,675 US soldiers dead and missing, and another 4,900 sailors dead and missing (= 12,513 — heh, okay, it’s the same number). The biggest tragedy of Okinawa was the number of innocently bystanding Okinawans who were killed — many of whom dying when Japanese imperial troops convinced them to commit suicide. I wouldn’t be surprised if 180,000 were the number of Okinawans who died during the campaign, although that could also be the total dead including civilians and Japanese fighters (the estimate on Japanese combatants’ deaths is 60,000). If you ever want to hate the imperialist Japanese for the way they waged war, I highly recommend further research into the Battle of Okinawa.

  11. bkdunn says:

    The Wikipedia entry nicely summarizes the horrors faced by Okinawan citizens: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_okinawa#Civilian_losses

    The statements here are corroborated in With the Old Breed as well as Stay Off the Skyline. Unfortunately, it’s most certainly true that there were Okinawans who were raped by American marines and soldiers ( — but there doesn’t seem to be significant evidence that this was common practice (I think Skyline includes an interview with a marine who had a couple guys in his platoon or company who did this, although it might have been from Sledge).

  12. Faisal says:

    When old say that in war and love every thing is fair. then how you belive any government like USA when he say only 2 death is this true you belive this but me say no.THIS IS RICH PEOPLE CHAS GAME.THIS GAME DEPEND ON LIE.

  13. bkdunn says:

    On the one hand, it’s neat to get some international visitors. On the other hand…

    I’ll say this: it’s better than my Urdu. And I guess shallow sloganizing *is* an international language of sorts.

  14. Shelley Thompson says:

    Hello what I wonder about is the effect of extreme stress lack of sleep(my comma key is not working for some reason.)poor nutrition, that was experienced in ww2 and if the result of that was early deaths of the soldiers returning home.
    I’ve also read some articles about the ‘brain drain’ resulting from these war casualties. How many people died in these wars who could have had a very positive impact on quality of life for the US and even the world? Did the pioneer of cancer research who discovered a cure for cancer die or a president die on D day who would have led the US toward a much brighter and enlightened future? Did someone die who would have found the cure for AIDS Alszheimers the common cold and flu or perhaps a great environmentalist and researcher who discovered a green power source that started a green movement which drastically reduced environmental pollution. Perhaps the person who was to write the greatest work of literature died on that beach or who was to become a great philosopher whose teachings would have touched all mankind toward a more peaceful coexistence. I just wonder that one reason it seems to me our country is just getting lazier and crazier could have been prevented if we had not been involved in so many wars that caused so many deaths.
    Many families who lost a loved one in a conflict would tell us that one death is too many and i believe them to be correct. History teaches us that war and battles and soldiers have always been a way of life for us, but I wonder if there was a person who died in such a conflict who would have grown into the person that changed that historical fact and we would have nations who concentrated on education, health care, medical research, and the soldiers of war becoming soldiers of peace by assisting all people of all nations in learning how to positively impact not just an individual’s quality of life but the quality of life for all our nation’s people.
    I have always been fascinated by the number of churches in our towns but true kindnesses and acts of charity being newsworthy because it is just not that common. It makes little sense to me. I read a quotation that said if there was a heaven there would be very few people but many many animals. I guess that why most of my buds are of the four legged variety and I am somewhat of a recluse. Most people disapppoint me.

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