At the thirty thousand foot level, the drudgery of details melds into perpendicular lines and patches of colors. From high above, they tend to be mere fuzzy perturbations of major themes. Peering down on the impact of empires from this height negates the individual horrors of war. From so far above, it is easy to see the stodgy balance of war deaths from before and after the greatest war. Both before and after 1945, 80 million people died from battle and collateral damage.
With over 160 million people succumbing to the evils of war in the 20th century, it was the deadliest century of war. Of its major 120 wars, the bloodiest was WWII with 55 million souls lost. The largest losses of the 20th century occurred in China whose citizens endured 60 million deaths, the greatest of which were self inflicted, estimated at 38 million deaths during Mao’s great leap forward during the years of 1958 to 1961.
After WWII, the U.S., determined to subdue the evils of mankind, built the most powerful armed force ever known and fashioned it across the continents to support allies, to defend democracy, and to protect its national interests. Throughout the latter part of the twentieth century America asserted her dominance on average more than once annually to support American interests. However, her influence did not diminish war across the world.
Of the 120 major wars, 90 began after America’s build up of utmost power. Of these, the first formed from the frictions of decolonization. A few involved America’s support of anticommunist forces, and later entry into the Middle East. Others were in response of Israel’s resettlement. However, the vast majority of wars were fought internally by factions within countries started over religious, ethnic, political, or financial differences.
To be sure, the modern hegemonist America has been responsible for destruction of lives post WWII, upwards of two million souls. Because many countries have suffered from America’s force, the relative restraint of this modern empire compared to all others in history has been lost in the animosity felt toward its aggression. When her time is long past, America will have been judged to have wielded the largest of sticks but having swung it lightly, at least from thirty thousand feet up.
Yet, when we drop down from the heavens and witness the destruction to families and the devastation of communities and nations, we realize the lasting scars of these seemingly impossibly large statistics of war. Mankind is flawed, and our differences carry forward into the next generations. History repeats itself.