How Many People Has the U.S. Government Killed?

Of course I can only touch on one aspect of recent history here.

I’m looking at the new report from Costs of War.

Five years ago, I think Nicolas Davies credibly and conservatively estimated 6 million people directly killed in U.S. wars since 2001 in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia.

What Costs of War has now done is to go with the highly dubious but corporate-respectable estimate of 900,000 directly killed in all of those wars, but leaving out Libya and Somalia. They’ve then documented a pattern of four indirect deaths for every direct death. By indirect deaths, they mean deaths caused by a war’s impact on:

1) economic collapse, loss of livelihood and food insecurity;
destruction of public services and health infrastructure;
environmental contamination; and
4) reverberating trauma and violence.”

Then they’ve multiplied 900,000 by 5 = 4.5 million direct and indirect deaths.

Applying the same ratio to 6 million would have resulted in 30 million direct and indirect deaths.

But, of course, it’s possible that the common insistence on underestimating direct deaths — if I’m right about that — tells us more about the proportion of deaths that are direct and indirect, rather than about the total number of deaths. If there are, for example, actually only two indirect deaths for each direct death from these wars, then 6 million times 3 = 18 million total deaths.

None of this, of course, considers the great many millions who are not dead but are malnourished and/or traumatized and/or uneducated as a result of these wars. (Costs of War’s report estimates 7.6 million children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition, or wasting, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.)

Nor does any of this go where the truly large numbers are, namely in lost opportunities, climate, non-collaboration, and nuclear.

With tens of billions of dollars you could save many millions of lives from starvation and disease. These wars cost hundreds of billions. The preparation for them and for more to follow them cost trillions. The wars destroyed trillions of dollars worth of property.

The wars and preparations for them and for more to follow have done enormous damage to the Earth’s climate and ecosystems, which will cause a great many human, and non-human deaths.

The wars and preparations for them and for more to follow are the chief impediment to global collaboration on disease pandemics, homelessness, poverty, and environmental collapse.

The wars and preparations for them and for more to follow have put the world at the greatest ever risk of nuclear apocalypse.

What I think Costs of War’s report tells us for certain is that, how ever many people have been killed directly in these wars, huge numbers have also been killed indirectly. If we consider lost opportunities, then we’re talking about an impact worldwide, including in the United States. The U.S. could have had European levels of education, healthcare, retirement, and clean energy instead of these wars.

But if we look just at direct and indirect war deaths (or war deaths and injuries) it’s worth noticing that the very small percentage of direct deaths (or deaths and injuries) that are to U.S. troops drops much further when indirect deaths are considered.

I can illustrate this with a calculation I’ve used before from the war on Vietnam.

The U.S. soldiers who did 1.6% of the dying, but whose suffering dominates U.S. movies about the war, really did suffer as much and as horribly as depicted. Thousands of veterans have since committed suicide. But imagine what that means for the true extent of the suffering created, even just for humans, ignoring all the other species impacted. The Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. lists 58,000 names on 150 meters of wall. That’s 387 names per meter. To similarly list 4 million names would require 10,336 meters, or the distance from the Lincoln Memorial to the steps of the U.S. Capitol, and back again, and back to the Capitol once more, and then as far back as all the museums but stopping short of the Washington Monument.

Now imagine multiplying by 3 or by 5. The U.S. percentage drops to a tiny fraction of 1% of the deaths in a one-sided slaughter.

Of course this also puts into perspective those disgusting claims that U.S. gun deaths domestically are higher than deaths in U.S. wars or that the deadliest U.S. war was the U.S. Civil War. Statistically, virtually all deaths in U.S. wars — including U.S. proxy wars undiscussed here — are non-U.S. deaths.

Now imagine putting all the war deaths, direct and indirect, into one memorial wall. Perhaps it would cross the continent.

For a broader consideration further back in time, see

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.