Monday, June 6, 2011

A Civil War in the USA Today Would Mean Tens of Millions Dead

Which of the many wars the USA has been involved in since its inception has taken the greatest toll of US lives? The answer is the Civil War from 1861-65. It has always been said that 620,000 Americans died in that conflict, two percent of the US population at the time of 31 million. That would translate into well over 6 million deaths pro rata today, and that assumes nineteenth century weaponry.

It is impossible to catalogue the fate of each of the 3 million or more men who fought in the war, and neither the Union nor the Confederacy kept standardized personnel records, and the Confederate records, based on incomplete battle reports and deaths from non-combat causes like disease, were little better than guesswork. The figure was 258,000, a lot less than the more accurate Union figure.

Binghamton University historian J David Hacker now reveals the war’s dead numbered between 650,000 and 850,000, with 750,000 as the central figure, a central estimate 20 percent higher than old figure of 620,000. Hacker realized that civilian deaths were so low relative to soldiers’ deaths that he could compare the number of native-born men missing in the 1870 Census relative to the number of native-born women missing and produce an estimate of the number missing presumed dead from that. He looked at the ratio of male survival relative to female survival for each age group, found the normal peace time pattern in survival rates for men and women by looking at the numbers for 1850-1860 and 1870-1880. Then he compared the war decade, 1860-1870, relative to the pattern. Hacker says:

You can track the number of people of certain ages from one census to the next, and you can see how many are missing.

Pulitzer Prize-winner James McPherson, the greatest living historian of the war, says:

I have always been convinced that the consensus figure of 620,000 is too low, and especially that the figure of 260,000 Confederate dead is definitely too low. My guess is that most of the difference between the estimate of 620,000 and Hacker’s higher figure is the result of underreported Confederate deaths.

McPherson says the new figure should gain acceptance among historians of the era:

An accurate tally—or at least a reasonable estimate—is important in order to gauge the huge impact of the war on American society.

If the recent polarization in American society were to lead to a modern civil war of a similar ferocity, the portends are that, by comparison with the previous one, and allowing for the West's readiness to use WMD and automated killing machines like drone aircraft, deaths would be unimaginable. Yet the US ruling elite seem almost to be inviting it to happen. Maybe they should be less smug. Once US citizens realize the degree to which they have been robbed, it will happen. The kleptocrats will then have killed off the uncomplaining goose that has being laying them golden eggs for the last three decades.

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