Deaths by Mass Unpleasantness:

Estimated Totals for the Entire 20th Century

List of Recurring Sources

Alphabetical Index

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How many people died in all the wars, massacres, slaughters and oppressions of the Twentieth Century? Here are a few atrocitologists who have made estimates:

  • M. Cherif Bassouni, from an unspecified "1996" source which I have been unable to track down (Cited in an article in the Chicago Tribune, 25 Oct. 1998)
    • 33 million "military casualties" (That's how the article phrased it, but I presume they mean military deaths.)
    • 170 million killed in "conflicts of a non-international charater, internal conflicts and tyrannical regime victimization")
      • 86M since the Second World War
    • TOTAL: 203,000,000
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the Twenty-first Century (1993)
    • "Lives deliberately extinguished by politically motivated carnage":
      • 167,000,000 to 175,000,000
      • Including:
        • War Dead: 87,500,000
          • Military war dead:
            • 33,500,000
          • Civilian war dead:
            • 54,000,000
        • Not-war Dead: 80,000,000
          • Communist oppression:
            • 60,000,000
  • David Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia (2001)
  • Stephane Courtois, The Black Book of Communism
    • Victims of Communism only: 85-100M
  • Milton Leitenberg []
    • Politically caused deaths in the 20th C: 214M to 226M, incl...
      • Deaths in wars and conflicts, incl. civilian: 130M-142M
      • Political deaths, 1945-2000: 50M-51M
  • Not The Enemy Media []
    • Killed through U.S. foreign policy since WWII: 10,774,706 to 16,856,361 (1945-May 2003)
  • Rudolph J. Rummel, Death By Government
    • "Democides" - Government inflicted deaths (1900-87)
      • 169,198,000
      • Including:
        • Communist Oppression: 110,286,000
        • Democratic democides: 2,028,000
    • Not included among democides:
      • Wars: 34,021,000
      • Non-Democidal Famine (often including famines associated with war and communist mismanagement):
        • China (1900-87): 49,275,000
        • Russia: (1921-47): 5,833,000
    • Total:
      • 258,327,000 for all the categories listed here.
  • Me (Matthew White, Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century, 2001):
    • Deaths by War and Oppression:
      • Genocide and Tyranny:
        • 83,000,000
      • Military Deaths in War:
        • 42,000,000
      • Civilian Deaths in War:
        • 19,000,000
      • Man-made Famine:
        • 44,000,000
      • TOTAL:
        • 188,000,000
    • FAQ: How did you get these totals?
    • (Note: It's commonly said that more civilians than soldiers die in war, but you may notice that my numbers don't seem to agree with that. Before you jump to any conclusions, however, remember that most civilian deaths in war are intentional, and therefore fall into the "genocide and tyranny" category. Many others are the result of starvation.)
    • My estimate for the Communist share of the century's unpleasantness:
      • Genocide & Tyranny: 44M
        • (incl. intentional famine)
      • Man-made Famine: 37M
        • (excl. intentional famine)
      • Communist-inspired War (for example the Russian Civil War, Vietnam, Korea, etc.)
        • Military: 5M
        • Civilian: 6M
        • NOTE: With these numbers, I'm tallying every combat death and accidental civilian death in the war, without differentiating who died, who did it or who started it. According to whichever theory of Just War you are working from, the Communists may be entirely blameless, or entirely to blame, for these 11M dead.
      • TOTAL: 92M deaths by Communism.
      • RESIDUE: 96M deaths by non-Communism.

For Comparison:

  • Total Deaths During the 20th Century
    • Approximately 4,126,000,000 people have died during this century from all causes. If man-made megadeaths account for 185 million of them, then one out of every 22 (or 4.5%) human deaths during the 20th Century have been caused by fellow humans.
    • Sources: Nowadays, you can just open up a statistical abstract and find reasonably accurate numbers for how many people died last year. Unfortunately, that's a very recent ability. Only industrialized countries keep vital statistics, and most of the people who have lived in this century have not lived in industrialized countries. Therefore, we've got a big margin of error to worry about.

      Basically, to arrive at the following numbers, I set up a big spread sheet which multiplied each country's population by its death rate for a middle year of each decade. Then, I added them together to get a global total, and multiplied by ten for a decade total. For those countries for which I did not have accurate mortality statistics, I scrounged the death rate from a nearby, similar country -- using Argentine death rates for Chile, say.

      Decade Deaths worldwide (millions) Death Rate (per 1000) Mid-decade World Population (millions) How I calculated it
      late 1990s 261 Looked up total estimated deaths in Britannica's Yearbook, year by year.
      early 1990s 252 8.6 5863
      1980s 459 9.2 5000 Gathered mortality stats of 20 largest countries for typical years (1977, 1987) from UN Yearbook. Calculated average world death rate, weighted by population. Multiplied this average by mid-decade's world population, then by 10.
      1970s 481 11.7 4100
      1960s 348 11.5 3030 Estimated average worldwide death rate, based on extremely scattered data for individual countries in the 1963 UN Yearbook. Multiplied this average by mid-decade's world population, then by 10.
      1950s 385 14.3 2700 Geometric mean of death rates for 1930s and 1960s. Multiplied this by mid-decade's world population, then by 10.
      1940s 318 14.3 2230
      1930s 377 17.6 2138 Geometric mean of death rates for 1900s and 1960s. Multiplied this by mid-decade's world population, then by 10.
      1920s 425 21.9 1941 Geometric mean of death rates for 1900s and 1930s. Multiplied this by mid-decade's world population, then by 10.
      1910s 385 21.9 1762
      1900s 435 27.1 1606 Estimated average worldwide death rate, based on extremely incomplete and scattered data for individual countries in the 1911 Britannica. Multiplied this average by world population, then by 10.
      TOTAL 4126 Added.

  • Smallpox:
    • Mannfred Hollinger, Introduction to Pharmacology: Half a billion people worldwide in the 20th C.
    • John Campbell, Campbell's Physiology Notes for Nurses: smallpox killed 300 million in the 20th Century.
    • Michael Oldstone, Viruses, Plagues, and History: 300M
    • Albert Marrin, Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster: 300M
  • Smoking:
    • R. Peto, "Mortality from tobacco in developed countries: indirect estimation from national vital statistics", Lancet, 23 May 1992:
      • 1930-59: 11,000,000
      • 1960s: 9,000,000
      • 1970s: 13,000,000
      • 1980s: 17,000,000
      • 1990s: 21,000,000
      • TOTAL (1930-1999): 71,000,000 tobacco-related deaths in developed countries. (US, Europe, USSR, Canada, Japan, Australia, NZ)
    • Note: Although the bulk of humanity lives outside developed countries, tobacco-related deaths are not as common there, largely because the average Third World life expectancy does not leave enough time to develop cancer and heart disease. Ditto for the developed world prior to 1930. Basically, smoking is a rich man's way to die.
    • The World Health Organization estimates that 3 million people die each year worldwide from tobacco, which becomes 900,000 3rd-Worlders when we subtract the 2.1 million 1st- and 2nd-Worlders calculated by Peto (yearly average for the 1990s, above). This indicates some 9 million tobacco deaths in non-developed countries during the 1990s and (using the same ratio) perhaps 5 million during the 1980s. If we continue this ratio all the way back, we get an even hundred million deaths by tobacco worldwide; however, as Peto puts it, "the epidemic is generally at an earlier stage," so the tobacco-related mortality rate in the third world was relatively low before 1980. Let's add only another 5 million for the years prior to 1980, bringing the century total up to 90,000,000.
  • Abortions:
    • 29,247,142 legal abortions were performed in the United States, 1970-95. (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Vol. 47 No. SS-2)
    • Estimated abortions worldwide: 527M to 836M (1920-2000) []
    • [Letter]
  • Cats and Dogs
    • AHS: 9.6 million animals euthanized in the US, 1997 []
    • HSUS: 3-4 million cats and dogs euthanized by US shelters each year []
  • Influenza Pandemic, 1918-19:
    • Gilbert: 13,000,000
    • Encarta: 20,000,000 (also Time: Great Events of the 20th Century; also 30 June 1998 Washington Post)
    • Michael Howard, The Oxford History of the Twentieth Century: 20M d. in 1919 flu.
    • Our Times: 21,642,274
    • MEDIAN: ca. 21M
    • Wallechinsky: 30,000,000
    • R.S. Bray, Armies of Pestilence: the Impace of Disease on History (1996): 25-50M, citing Burnet & White
    • John M. Barry, The Great Influenza (2004)
      • 1927 AMA study: 21M
      • 1940s McFarlane Burnet est. 50-100M
      • 2002 epidem. study: 50-100M
    • Spartacus []: >70,000,000
    • NOTE: Because the first outbreaks of the disease were often spread via troop movements, the temptation is to add all the world's pandemic deaths to the death toll of World War I, thereby raising it from ca. 15M to more than 35M; however, I have never seen an actual, published history of the First World War do this. Yes, histories of the war will count the soldiers and refugees that died of the flu in camps, but obviously not the millions in, say, China or India, that died far from any battlefield, long after the armistice.
  • AIDS:
    • 11,700,000 deaths worldwide, 1981-98 (from 23 June 1998 report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS at
  • Homicide:
    • Very, very rough estimate until I research this more fully: 8.5 million murders worldwide, 1900-1999.
    • What I do know so far:
      • Brazil: 350,000 murders in 1990s (24 Oct. 1999 Guardian)
      • USA 1960-96: 666,160 murders and (non-negligent) manslaughters (Statistical Abstract of the United States,
      • USA 1900-59: 390,136 murders (Watenburg, The Statistical History of the United States, 1976)
      • USA TOTAL: 1,056,296 (more or less -- depending on how you want to count manslaughters)
    • 739,938 murders worldwide, 1986-90, excluding the USA ( The USA produced 12.5% of the world's murders during the years 1986-90, so if we apply that ratio to the entire century, then it would indicate that 7.35M murders were committed worldwide (but outside the US), 1900-96. It looks like the century total is somewhere near 1.05M in US + 7.35M elsewhere.
    • Maybe this 8.5?M should be added to the wars and oppressions under the category of deaths "caused by fellow humans", above. If you want to do this, go ahead.
  • Natural Disasters:
    • According to a 20 December 1999 press release from the reinsurance company Munich Re, a total of 3.5 million people were killed in 20th Century disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and volcanos, but not drought or famine. (A total of 15M were killed by disasters during the entire Second Millennium.) []
  • Racism:
    • Just out of curiosity, I decided to calculate the death toll of racism in the United States, and it certainly looks like non-whites suffered 3,300,000 excess deaths from 1900 to 1970.
    • Sources: Throughout most of American history, non-whites have had a significantly higher death rate than whites. As there's no natural reason for whites to live longer than non-whites, the cause for this difference must be social -- rooted in poverty and manifesting itself in malnutrition, inadequate public health, substandard medical care, homicide, alcoholism, suicide and drug addiction.
    • If we subtract the number of non-whites who would have died anyway (even at a white death rate) from the number who did die -- year-by-year -- and then add it all up, we get our total number of excess deaths.
    • Because this is just my calculations -- not peer-reviewed or gathered from a reputable source -- I'll give you a lot of detail. My source for the raw numbers is Watenburg, The Statistical History of the United States (1976). As an example of my methods, consider this: in 1920, the death rate for whites was 12.6/1000, while for non-whites it was 17.7/1000. Now, if we multiply the non-white death rate by the estimated non-white population of 10,951,000, we find that there were approximately 193,833 deaths among non-whites in 1920. If they had died at the white death rate, however, there would only have been 137,983 deaths. Therefore, we've got 55,850 excess deaths caused by the socioeconomic handicap of not being white.
    • Decade by decade, here are the totals:
      Decade Excess Deaths
      1960s 65,000
      1950s 200,000
      1940s 300,000
      1930s 535,000
      1920s 630,000
      1910s 735,000
      1900s 835,000
      TOTAL 3,300,000

    • Escape Hatch: Since no one's paying me to be mired in controversy, I'll give a short list of why this calculation might not mean what it seems to mean. I'll leave it to philosophers and statisticians to iron out these problems:
      1. I haven't adjusted for age differences.
      2. I haven't adjusted for geographic differences -- specifically, I haven't taken into account that the South has traditionally been unhealthier than the North for both blacks and whites. Since the black population has been disproportionately Southern, then this has boosted their death rates.
      3. Suicide, drug addiction, alcoholism, etc. are often considered to be matters of free will.
      4. Homicides are customarily blamed on the individual murderers rather than society as a whole.
    • To give you a chance to check behind me, here are all the calculations in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, compressed with PKZip.
  • Decommuniziation:
    • Jerry Hough, LA Times 18 August 1998 Op-Ed: With the collapse of communism in Russia, poverty and death rates soared, and some 3 million people in Russia died who would have been alive if the old life expectancy rates had been maintained. []
    • The Times (London) 27 Jan. 2000: The Russian population is roughly six million lower than if birth and death rates had stayed constant since the fall of communism.
    • 28 Dec. 1994 Plain Dealer: 360,000 more Russians died in 1993 than in 1992.
  • Medical Mistakes:
    • According to a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine, 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die unnecessarily every year from medical mistakes made by health care professionals. (30 Nov. 1999 Washington Post, 30 Nov. 1999 AP, or pretty much any news source that day.)
  • Eaten by Tigers:
    • According to official statistics [], 34,075 people were killed by tigers in British-administered India, 1875-1912. That includes 11,423 k. 1900-1912.

List of Recurring Sources


How did you get these totals?

Simple -- I added everything up. If you sum the first five of the century's top 30 atrocities, you get a bit over 142M. Summing the first 10 brings the total to 157M, while the sum of the first 20 is 171.7M. It may look like, at this rate, we'll shoot past 188M in no time at all, but notice how the body counts get smaller at each level -- from 142M for the 1st 5 to 15M for the next 5 to a mere 14M or so for the next 10. Pretty soon, we get to the point where a single atrocity doesn't noticably shift the total at all.


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Last updated September 2005

Copyright 1999-2005 Matthew White