During the war, approximately 620,000 soldiers lost their lives. An equivalent proportion of today’s population would be six million. This Republic of Suffering explores the impact of this enormous death toll from every angle: material, political, intellectual, and spiritual.The first reviews have already latched on to the number. I think this is long overdue as a topic but the suffering is not intensified by manipulating the number 620,000. It hearkens to a point Neely made in his own book:
Repeated assertion of the destructive nature of the Civil War may, in fact, only serve to remind readers of the provincial nature of American history-writing.Previously, when encountering claims of the uniqueness of ACW destructiveness, I have been pleased to refer people to the contemporary War of the Triple Alliance, which liquidated 3/5 of the entire population of Paraguay. However, on my vacation (just returned, thank you) I read Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War where I encountered this quote from André Tardieu. It is directed at Americans. Perhaps Tardieu was answering the challenge of the 620,000 in his own way:
To measure what we have undergone [in WWI], suppose that the war had taken place in America, and that you had suffered proportionately. You would have had 4,000,000 of your men killed and 10,000,000 wounded [out of a population of 110,000,000 in 1922]. All your industries from Washington to Pittsburgh would have ceased to exist. All your coal mines would have been ruined. That is what the war would have meant to you. That is what it has meant to us.The population of France at the start of the world war in 1914 was about 39,600,000 just about a quarter more than that of the United States in 1860 with 31,443,321. On a comparable population base, the French suffered 1,697,800 dead and 4,266,000 wounded. In other words, they suffered 2.73 times the dead that the North and South experienced on a comparable timescale with a comparable population.
There is no times table for suffering, however. The standard of comparison for grief is grief. Let narrative plumb its depths. Let numbers tell another story. Be circumspect when brandishing 620,000.