If you have followed my blog from the beginning, you may remember that I have blogged previously about the American Civil War. Recently, I have started to read a book called This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust. Being a mild history buff, specifically in the Civil War, I knew that the death toll during the war was high, but I never quite realized the true depth until starting this book. One of the first things that Faust lays out is the true size of the death toll. According to Faust, "The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865, an estimated 620,000, is approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined."* To put that into further perspective, that was 2% of the American population at the time. Imagine if we were to lose 2% of the population of our country today. That would be roughly 6 million people. That is a number that is unfathomable to me.
A few years ago, we had reached 2,000 casualties in the war in Iraq. I can remember the distress that this number created in our country and in the media. Americans in this country were upset by the number of deaths occurring overseas, and rightfully so. It is difficult to deal with death, especially when it occurs in defense of a foriegn country. But, how would we, as citizens of this country, felt if those 2,000 lives were taken on our own soil? Would there have been as much outrage?
I certainly will never belittle the efforts and sacrifices of our soldiers. I stand behind our military 100%. But, I think that we all need to take a step back and look at things in perspective. In 1861, our country was being torn apart. If those 620,000 soldiers had not laid down their lives, who knows where we would be today. The freedoms we enjoy today were paid for by those 620,000 soldiers on battlefields across the north and south. The equal rights that both whites and blacks enjoy came from those 620,000 souls. This country was built upon the lives of those who not only died in the Civil War, but every war that occurred on our country's soil before it.
No one likes to think about soldiers dying in battle. No one wants to see a single life lost in war. But, let's consider for just a moment how things have changed since 2% of the population laid down their lives over a century and a half ago. During the American Civil War, a simple bullet wound, no matter where it was, could be fatal. There were no antibotics and certainly no sterile operating rooms during that time. Medical advances over the past century have been instrumental in lowering the fatality rate of those wounded in the service of their country. Even as our capacity to kill in more devastating ways has increased, our capacity to heal has increased as well.
I think this is one of the reasons that I love history. It helps to put things into perspective. When you consider our country's history against current events, you begin to see how far we have traveled. This is a country that is built on the lives of those who have passed. It is built on the blood, sweat, and lives of those who willingly put the needs of the country above their own. I salute those who have paid the ultimate price in the service of our country. I am also glad that 2% of our population no longer has to die to keep our country safe.
* Faust, Drew Gilpin (2008-01-08). This Republic of Suffering (Kindle Locations 103-105). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.