That’s a very rough estimate of American colonial soldiers who were killed, died from disease, or died as prisoners of war, in the struggle to gain independence from Britain, a war that that stretched from Massachusetts to the Carolinas and lasted for five years. It’s a pretty big number. But you have to consider that the population of the colonies at that time was approximately 2.5 million. So it represents only about 2 percent of the total population.
Here’s a much bigger, more precise number: 400,000. In World War 2, America sacrificed an astounding 400,000 soldiers in Europe and the Pacific. But the population of the country at that time was about 150 million. So that’s about .25 percent.
Our most grievous conflict by far was the Civil War, in which all soldiers on both sides were Americans. On the northern side, about 2% of the total population was killed or wounded, while on the southern side, the number is hard to calculate and is as low as 3% and as high as a ghastly 10%.
Now, all these numbers are based on total population – including females as well as males of non-fighting-age – so the percentage of deaths among fighting-age men is probably 3 to 4 times greater. (For example, some historians believe that, during the Civil War, 1 out of every 3 southern men of fighting age was killed or wounded.) And these numbers also account only for military-related casualties, and don’t include the tremendous loss and suffering among common citizens.
And finally, consider this: throughout our history, approximately 1.5 million Americans have been killed or wounded in military action. And based on our current population of almost 350 million people, the total number of Americans who’ve ever lived is probably on the order of 600 million. Which means, when you do the grim summary calculation, that for every 1000 Americans who’ve ever lived, only 2 or 3 have stepped up and given the last full measure of devotion.
2.5 out of 1000.
And so we head to Memorial Day. It’s time to fire up the grill, crack open a beer, and enjoy time with your friends and family.
But also count your blessings and take a moment to reflect on the mortality mathematics of Memorial Day.
And give thanks for the sacrifices of the one-quarter-percent.
– Mike Keeler