As with most wars, the majority of people killed in the deadliest wars of all time are innocent civilians. Wars have been a part of human history since the dawn of time. The earliest recorded evidence of human warfare suggests that the first conflict took place around 13,000 years ago along the Egypt-Sudan border. It is believed that this conflicted erupted as a resulted of competition over resources — in this case, water. However, there are many reasons a war can develop: poverty, poor governmental leadership, civil unrest, religion, territory disputes, resources and a plethora of other factors are all responsible for most of the wars throughout human history. With that said, here is a look at the deadliest wars in history.
Top 12 Most Deadliest Wars in History
- The Second Congo War
The Second Congo War (1998-2003) was one of the deadliest wars in history and the deadliest in modern African history. This war spanned over a period of 5 years and caused the death of around 5.4 million people. Although the genocides accounted for a large number of casualties, diseases and famine caused by the war were also partially responsible.
- Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) pitted the French Empire and its allies against a coalition of European powers. The Napoleonic Wars refers to a series of conflicts between the French Empire and the coalitions that fought it: the War of the Third Coalition, the Fourth, the Fifth, the Sixth and the Seventh and final coalition. During this period, it is estimated that around 3.5-6 million people were killed as a direct or indirect result of the war.
- The Thirty Years’ War
As the name implies, the Thirty Years’ War was fought between Catholic and Protestant states in Central Europe from 1618 to 1648. The conflicts eventually drew in the great powers of Europe, resulting in one of the longest, most destructive and deadliest conflicts in European history. It is estimated that the war was responsible for the deaths of 8 million civilians and military personnel alike.
- The Chinese Civil War
The Chinese Civil War started in August of 1927 between the government-backed Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China. The massacres and mass atrocities carried out by both parties resulted in more than 8 million casualties by 1950.
- The Russian Civil War
The Russian Civil War claimed the lives of more than 9 million people — 8 million of whom were civilians. The war spanned from 1917-1922 — immediately after the Russian Revolutions of 1917 — and it was fought between opposing political factions, namely the Red Army and the White Army.
- The Dungan Revolt
The Dungan Revolt was a war fought between the Hans (Chinese ethnic group native to East Asia) and the Huis (Chinese Muslims) in 19th-century China during the Qing Dynasty. There were approximately 20 million war-related deaths, mostly caused by famine and migration brought about by the war.
- An Lushan Rebellion
The An Lushan Rebellion was a rebellion against the Tang Dynasty of China between 755 A.D. and 763 A.D. Although it is difficult to accurately report the death toll, census reports taken the years following the war imply that around 36 million people were killed, or about two-thirds of population of the empire.
- World War I
The First World War was fought between the Allies and the Central Powers. The war lasted 4 years — from 1914 to 1918 —but it was responsible for around 18 million deaths. Of the 18 million deaths, about 11 million were military personnel and about 7 million were civilians.
- Taiping Rebellion
Yet another war in China, the Taiping Rebellion was another large-scale rebellion that was fought between 1850 and 1864. The war was fought between the Qing Dynasty and the Christian millenarian movement of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Although there isn’t an exact number, most estimations have the Taiping Rebellion responsible for 20-30 million deaths.
- The Qing Dynasty Conquest of the Ming Dynasty
The transition from the Qing Dynasty to the Ming dynasty was anything but peaceful. The rebellion waged for over 60 years— from 1618 to 1683 — and resulted in the deaths of 25 million people. What started as a relatively small rebellion in northeastern China ultimately resulted in one of the country’s deadliest conflicts as well as one of the deadliest wars in history.
- The Second Sino-Japanese War
The Second Sino-Japanese War was waged between 1937 and 1945 between the Republic of China’s National Revolutionary Army and the Imperial Japanese Army. It is widely believed that the war began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident and it later escalated to an all-out war that resulted in 25 million civilian deaths and over 4 million Chinese and Japanese military deaths.
- World War II
World War II was a global war that spanned from 1939 to 1945. The war pitted the Allies and the Axis power in the deadliest war in history, and was responsible for the deaths of over 70 million people. Known for its genocidal campaign against the Jewish people, the war was also responsible for the deaths of more than 50 million civilians.
An End to War
As John F. Kennedy famously said, “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.” The deadliest wars in history are all a testament to that sentiment — it is a repeating pattern with very costly end results. The last large-scale war, World War II, was responsible for the deaths of nearly 70 million people.
With the ever-advancing technology in the modern world and a booming population, the next war will undoubtedly bring about an unprecedented amount of deaths. Let history be a teacher so that we can avoid committing the same mistakes, and put an end to conflict once and for all.
– Brandon Cerda