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Nations customarily measure the ‘costs of war’ in dollars, lost production, or the number of soldiers killed or wounded. Rarely do military establishments attempt to measure the costs of war in terms of individual human suffering. Psychiatric breakdown remains one of the most costly items of war when expressed in human terms.

No More Heroes, Richard Gabriel[1]
File:War world map - DALY - WHO2004.svg

Disability-adjusted life year for war per 100,000 inhabitants in 2004.[2]

██ no data ██ less than 100 ██ 100–200 ██ 200–600 ██ 600–1000 ██ 1000–1400 ██ 1400–1800 ██ 1800–2200 ██ 2200–2600 ██ 2600–3000 ██ 3000–8000 ██ 8000–8800 ██ more than 8800


The Apotheosis of War (1871) by Vasily Vereshchagin

On soldiers[edit | edit source]

Soldiers subject to combat in war often suffer psychological and physical casualties, including depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Gulf War Syndrome, disease, injury, and death.

In every war in which American soldiers have fought in, the chances of becoming a psychiatric casualty – of being debilitated for some period of time as a consequence of the stresses of military life – were greater than the chances of being killed by enemy fire.

No More Heroes, Richard Gabriel[1]

During World War II, research conducted by US Army Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall found that, on average, only 15% to 20% of American riflemen in WWII combat fired at the enemy.[3] In Civil War Collector’s Encyclopedia, F.A. Lord notes that of the 27,574 discarded muskets found on the Gettysburg battlefield, nearly 90% were loaded, with 12,000 loaded more than once and 6,000 loaded 3 to 10 times. These studies suggest that most soldiers resist firing their weapons in combat, that – as some theorists argue – human beings have an inherent resistance to killing their fellow human beings.[3] Swank and Marchand’s WWII study found that after sixty days of continuous combat, 98% of all surviving soldiers will become psychiatric casualties. Psychiatric casualties manifest themselves in fatigue cases, confusional states, conversion hysteria, anxiety, obsessional and compulsive states, and character disorders.[3]

One-tenth of mobilised American men were hospitalised for mental disturbances between 1942 and 1945, and after thirty-five days of uninterrupted combat, 98% of them manifested psychiatric disturbances in varying degrees.

14–18: Understanding the Great War, Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, Annette Becker[1]

Additionally, it has been estimated that anywhere from 18% to 54% of Vietnam war veterans suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.[3]

Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of all white American males aged 13 to 43 died in the American Civil War, including about 6% in the North and approximately 18% in the South.[4] The war remains the deadliest conflict in American history, resulting in the deaths of 620,000 soldiers. United States military casualties of war since 1775 have totaled over two million. Of the 60 million European soldiers who were mobilized in World War I, 8 million were killed, 7 million were permanently disabled, and 15 million were seriously injured.[5]

File:Goya-Guerra (32).jpg

Why?, from The Disasters of War (Los desastres de la guerra), by Francisco Goya, 1812–15. A collection of depictions of the brutalities of the Napoleonic-Peninsular War.


The remains of dead Crow Indians killed and scalped by Sioux c. 1874

File:The Hanging by Jacques Callot.jpg

Les Grandes Misères de la guerre depict the destruction unleashed on civilians during the Thirty Years' War.

During Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, more French soldiers died of typhus than were killed by the Russians.[6] Felix Markham thinks that 450,000 crossed the Neman on 25 June 1812, of whom less than 40,000 recrossed in anything like a recognizable military formation.[7] More soldiers were killed from 1500–1914 by typhus than from all military action during that time combined.[8] In addition, if it were not for the modern medical advances there would be thousands of more dead from disease and infection. For instance, during the Seven Years' War, the Royal Navy reported that it conscripted 184,899 sailors, of whom 133,708 died of disease or were 'missing'.[9]

It is estimated that 378,000 people died due to war each year between 1985 and 1994.[10]

On civilians[edit | edit source]

Many wars have been accompanied by significant depopulations, along with destruction of infrastructure and resources (which may lead to famine, disease, and death in the civilian population). Civilians in war zones may also be subject to war atrocities such as genocide, while survivors may suffer the psychological aftereffects of witnessing the destruction of war. During the Thirty Years' War in Europe, for example, the population of the German states was reduced by about 30%.[11][12] The Swedish armies alone may have destroyed up to 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns in Germany, one-third of all German towns.[13]

Estimates for the total casualties of World War II vary, but most suggest that some 60 million people died in the war, comprising around 20 million soldiers and 40 million civilians.[14] The Soviet Union lost around 27 million people during the war, about half of all World War II casualties.[15] Since a high proportion of those killed were young men, the postwar Soviet population was 45 to 50 million fewer than post–1939 projections would have led one to expect.[16] The largest number of civilian deaths in a single city was 1.2 million citizens dead during the 872-day Siege of Leningrad.

Effect on marriages and partnerships of participlants[edit | edit source]

Effect on children of participants[edit | edit source]

Effect on civilian children[edit | edit source]

On the economy[edit | edit source]

Once a war has ended, losing nations are sometimes required to pay war reparations to the victorious nations. In certain cases, land is ceded to the victorious nations. For example, the territory of Alsace-Lorraine has been traded between France and Germany on three different occasions.

Typically speaking, war becomes very intertwined with the economy and many wars are partially or entirely based on economic reasons such as the American Civil War. In some cases war has stimulated a country's economy (High government spending for World War II is often credited with bringing America out of the Great Depression) but in many cases, such as the wars of Louis XIV, the Franco-Prussian War, and World War I, warfare serves only to damage the economy of the countries involved. For example, Russia's involvement in World War I took such a toll on the Russian economy that it almost collapsed and greatly contributed to the start of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

World War II[edit | edit source]

One of the starkest illustrations of the effect of war upon economies is the Second World War. The Great Depression of the 1930s ended as nations increased their production of war materials to serve the war effort.[17] The financial cost of World War II is estimated at about a trillion U.S. dollars worldwide,[18][19] making it the most costly war in capital as well as lives.

By the end of the war, the European economy had collapsed with 70% of the industrial infrastructure destroyed.[20] Property damage in the Soviet Union inflicted by the Axis invasion was estimated to a value of 679 billion rubles. The combined damage consisted of complete or partial destruction of 1,710 cities and towns, 70,000 villages/hamlets, 2,508 church buildings, 31,850 industrial establishments, 40,000 miles of railroad, 4100 railroad stations, 40,000 hospitals, 84,000 schools, and 43,000 public libraries.[21]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named War
  2. Mortality and Burden of Disease Estimates for WHO Member States in 2004. World Health Organization.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named autogenerated1996
  4. Maris Vinovskis (28 September 1990). Toward a Social History of the American Civil War: Exploratory Essays, Cambridge University Press. URL accessed 31 May 2012.
  5. Kitchen, Martin (2000), The Treaty of Versailles and its Consequences, New York: Longman
  6. The Historical Impact of Epidemic Typhus. Joseph M. Conlon.
  7. See a large copy of the chart here:, but discussed at length in Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (London: Graphics Press, 1992)
  8. War and Pestilence. TIME.
  9. A. S. Turberville (2006). Johnson's England: An Account of the Life & Manners of His Age. ISBN READ BOOKS. p.53. ISBN 1-4067-2726-1
  10. Obermeyer Z, Murray CJ, Gakidou E (June 2008). Fifty years of violent war deaths from Vietnam to Bosnia: analysis of data from the world health survey programme. BMJ 336 (7659): 1482–6.
  11. The Thirty Years War (1618–48), Alan McFarlane, The Savage Wars of Peace: England, Japan and the Malthusian Trap (2003)
  12. History of Europe – Demographics. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  13. Population. History Learningsite. URL accessed on 2008-05-24.
  14. World War II Fatalities. URL accessed on 2007-04-20.
  15. includeonly>"Leaders mourn Soviet wartime dead", BBC News, 9 May 2005. Retrieved on 6 January 2010.
  16. Geoffrey A. Hosking (2006). Rulers And Victims: The Russians in the Soviet Union, 242–, Harvard University Press. URL accessed 31 May 2012.
  17. Great Depression and World War II. The Library of Congress.
  18. Mayer, E. (2000) "World War II" course lecture notes on (Victorville, California: Victor Valley College)
  19. Coleman, P. (1999) "Cost of the War," World War II Resource Guide (Gardena, California: The American War Library)
  20. (2008) Who Benefits from Global Violence and War: Uncovering a Destructive System, 136–, Greenwood Publishing Group. URL accessed 31 May 2012.
  21. The New York Times, 9 February 1946, Volume 95, Number 32158.
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