When the human cost of wars is tallied, the focus is usually on fatalities. It is why we observe Memorial Day in May each year and why President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address referred to the fallen Union soldiers as those who had given their “last full measure of devotion.” But war casualties also include the wounded, and for many of them, their injuries remain with them for a lifetime. Veterans can have wounds from shrapnel or bullets that continue to affect them for the rest of their lives. Others sustain traumatic brain injuries that can have lasting effects. Many are amputees, (These are the wars that killed the most Americans.)
To find the wars in which the most Americans were wounded, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ fact sheet, America’s Wars, and the Department of Defense. The conflicts are ordered by total service members who were non-mortally wounded in each of these major conflicts.
The two most costly wars for the United States were World War II and the Civil War. There were more than 1 million casualties in WWII, more than 670,000 of them wounded. Casualties for Union and Confederate forces combined in the Civil War exceeded 900,000, with about half of them wounded.
The cold, hard calculus of warfare has historically put the ratio of wounded to those killed in combat at around 3:1. However, recent medical advances have improved that proportion, putting the U.S. wounded-to-killed ratio in a range of 10:1 to 17:1. The U.S. has been on the vanguard of improving the fate of its wounded soldiers.
Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs cites four reasons for the change in the ratio: preventive care, battlefield medicine, evacuation practices, and personal protective equipment. (Still, some of the military equipment is considerably older. These are America’s oldest weapons still in use by the military.)
As battlefield survivability increases, governments will have to adjust the costs of war for caring for the rising number of wounded soldiers who survive combat.
Click here to see wars in which the most Americans were wounded.
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