Deadliest Wars

A Brief Overview of the Most Devastating Wars in Human History

Wars are unnatural disasters, and the deadliest wars have the highest casualties and a disproportionate number of people who die. But, like all wars, the maximum count of people who die in the deadliest wars in the history of the world are predominantly innocent civilians.

Warfare has been a feature of human history from the beginning of time. According to the earliest evidence of human combat, the first battle occurred approximately 13,000 years ago near the Egypt-Sudan frontier. The origin was a struggle over resources – in this case, water.

However, there are several causes for a war to break out: poverty, bad political leadership, civil unrest, religion, territorial conflicts, resources, and various other variables have all contributed to the majority of wars throughout human history. Let us look into the list of the deadliest conflicts in history.

First World War
Credit: History Extra

Deadliest Wars

Historic Napoleonic Wars

The French Empire and its allies arrayed against European countries during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). The Napoleonic Wars were wars between the French Empire and the coalitions that battled it: the Third Coalition War, the Fourth Coalition War, the Fifth Coalition War, the Sixth Coalition War, and the Seventh and Final Coalition War. An estimate of 3.5-6 million people died as a direct or indirect result of the war.

Thirty Years’ War

From 1618 until 1648, Catholic and Protestant nations in Central Europe fought the Thirty Years’ War. The disputes finally pulled in Europe’s great powers, culminating in one of Europe’s longest, most destructive, and bloodiest conflicts in history. An estimation of 8 million people died, including civilians and military men.

Russia Civil War

More than 9 million people died in Russia’s civil war, with 8 million being civilians. The conflict lasted from 1917 until 1922, soon following the 1917 Russian Revolutions. Opposing political forces, notably the Red Army and the White Army, fought the war.

Dungan Conflict War

The Dungan Revolt was the deadliest war waged in 19th-century China under the Qing Dynasty between the Hans (a Chinese ethnic group originating from East Asia) and the Huis (Chinese Muslims). There were about 20 million war-related deaths, primarily from starvation and migration induced by the conflict.

Lushan Conflict

The An Lushan Uprising was a Chinese rebellion between 755 and 763 A.D. against the Tang Dynasty. Although it is impossible to quantify the death toll precisely, census data from the years following the conflict suggest that around 36 million people died, or almost two-thirds of the empire’s population.

World War One
Credit: Wikipedia

First World War

The Allies and the Central Powers fought the First World War. The war lasted four years, from 1914 to 1918, yet it resulted in about 18 million fatalities. Around 11 million of the 18 million dead were military members, while the remaining 7 million were civilians.

Taiping Insurgency

The Taiping Uprising was another large-scale rebellion in China that took place between 1850 and 1864. The conflict occurred between the Qing Dynasty and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’s Christian millenarian movement. Although there is no exact figure, most estimates place the Taiping Rebellion to blame for 20-30 million fatalities.

China’s Dynasty War

The transition from the Qing to the Ming dynasties was never easy. The revolt lasted more than 60 years, from 1618 to 1683, and claimed the lives of 25 million people. It began as a minor revolt in northeastern China and grew into one of the bloodiest conflicts and wars in history.

The Second Sino-Japanese deadliest War occurred between China and Japan, between the Republic of China’s National Revolutionary Army and the Imperial Japanese Army between 1937 and 1945. A common assumption was that the conflict began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident and grew into a full-fledged war. There were 25 million civilian fatalities and around 4 million Chinese and Japanese military casualties.

Second World War
Credit: NCPR

Second World War

World War II was a worldwide conflict that lasted from 1939 until 1945. The conflict pitted the Allies against the Axis powers in the bloodiest war in history, killing nearly 70 million people. The war was notorious for its genocidal assault against the Jewish people. It was also responsible for causing the deaths of more than 50 million civilians. The deadliest war has been the Second World War II, with an estimate of 56.4 million. Of this, around 26.6 million were Soviet fatalities, and 7.8 million were Chinese civilians. The country with the most casualties in WWII was Poland, with 6,028,000 of its total population killed.

Chinese Civil War

The Chinese Civil War (1927-1949) stemmed from the downfall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. China was earlier already fragmented, and the downfall gave fuel to it. Two political parties formed- the nationalist Kuomintang Party and the Communist Party (CPC), which unified to settle China. However, the unity didn’t last long as internal rivalries emerged, and the Kuomintang party looked to gain prominence. In 1927, the Shanghai massacre took place wherein Communist party members were killed. It led to a bitter civil war.

Though the conflict halted briefly due to the Japanese invasion, it regained in 1945. This time, the Soviets backed the Kuomintang party and the US supported the CPC. As a result, the CPC gained prominence, and the communists gained control of the majority of the country and Beijing. They subsequently set up the People’s Republic of China. The Kuomintang moved to Taiwan and set up the Republic of China.  By 1950, more than 8 million people had died due to murders and mass crimes by both parties.

Korean War

The Korean War (19501953) was the initial skirmish of the Cold War and one of the deadliest wars. Before the Second World War, Korea was dominated by Japan, but towards the end, Russia liberated the northern part of Korea, and the US started pushing up from the southern side. As ties between the Soviet-US soured, an agreement was that Korea would be divided into two countries with separate governments. The North of Korea was purely a communist state, with support from Russia and China, whereas an unpleasant US-backed dictatorship controlled South Korea. In 1950, tensions escalated, and the North Koreans started an invasion of the South. After two days, United Nations-backed troops came to defend the South. Though the troops initially retreated, more troops started pushing the North Koreans back.

Things got ugly when Chinese troops from the north clashed with the US from the south. Though the UN forces dropped back, there was still ugly fighting on the ground. Also, US forces conducted heavy air raids, and almost every building in Northern Korea was flattened. This war led to nothing, and the demarked border still stands where it is in the agreement. The war killed millions of people because of starvation and also in concentration camps.

Second Congo War
Credit: Smithsonian Magazine

Deadliest Wars of the 21st Century

Second Congo War

The genocide in Rwanda, the murder of Mobutu Sese Seko, and strife between Hutu and Tutsi peoples sparked the Second Congo War (also called the Great War in Africa). Laurent Kabila ousted Mobutu and renamed Zaire the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but the country quickly devolved into civil conflict. Armies from approximately nine nations, as well as heavy militias, wreaked havoc in the countryside. As a result, around three million people, mostly civilians, died fighting or from diseases and malnutrition.

The Second Congo War (1998-2003) is one of the fatal conflicts in history and the bloodiest in contemporary African history. This conflict lasted five years and claimed the lives of about 5.4 million people. Although genocide was responsible for many deaths, illnesses and starvation also caused many deaths.

Syrian Civil War

Protests and revolutions against the government happened throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, responded by making significant political concessions and using brutality against his people. The revolt devolved into a civil war, spreading bloodshed into neighbouring Iraq, and the region became a hotspot for terrorist groups like Islamic State in Iraq and ISIS.

He also used extreme methods to preserve power, including dropping crude barrel bombs and employing chemical weapons on rebel-held areas. Finally, the US military arrived and launched airstrikes against ISIL militants in both Syria and Iraq. Later, cease-fire agreements failed to keep the bloodshed at bay. Around 470,000 people perished as a result of the deadliest Syrian Civil war. Four million people fled the country, and millions were displaced.

Darfur Conflict

In early 2003, rebel groups took up weapons against the administration of Omar al-Bashir, escalating tensions in western Sudan’s Darfur area. This war resulted in the first genocide and deadliest wars of the twenty-first century. Following successes by rebel groups against the Sudanese military, the Sudanese government enlisted the help of Arab militias known as Janjaweed. The Janjaweed engaged in targeted terrorism as well as ethnic cleansing activities in the deadliest war. They killed around 300,000 people and displaced nearly three million.

Iraq War
Credit: Anadolu Agency

Iraq War

Before the events of 9/11, the United States attempted to destabilise Saddam Hussein’s regime. They launched an attack on Iraq in 2003, citing links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda and the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. After that, there was a war and insurrection that lasted for years and took the lives of millions.

More than 4,700 coalition troops and approximately 85,000 Iraqi civilians had died when US forces withdrew in August 2010. In addition, the conflict resulted in the establishment of ISIS and the murders of 50,000 additional people. The people were either slaughtered by ISIS or killed in confrontations between ISIS and the Iraqi government.

Afghanistan War

Following the 9/11 attacks, the United States began conducting airstrikes against the Taliban administration in Afghanistan. As a result, the Afghanistan war became the most visible measure taken by the United States against terrorism. The Taliban lost power by December 2001, but the Afghan Taliban and its Pakistani equivalent would regain strength in the tribal areas and engage in military and terrorist actions.

The Taliban also used iEDs on military and civilian objectives. As a result, around 30,000 Afghan military and 31,000 Afghan civilians died. Around 3,500 NATO-led coalition forces were also killed, with 29 nationalities represented among the dead. In addition, the Pakistani Taliban murdered about 30,000 Pakistani government soldiers and civilians in the deadliest war.

Boko Haram
Credit: The Guardian

Boko Haram War

In Nigeria, the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram was inactive for some time. Post-2009, when it carried out attacks that murdered numerous police personnel. The Nigerian government reacted with a military operation that resulted in the deaths of over 700 Boko Haram militants. The Nigerian police and military then carried out an extrajudicial death operation.

Boko Haram retaliated by assassinating police officers, breaking into prisons, and assaulting civilian targets across Nigeria. In addition, almost 300 schoolgirls were abducted in 2014. The entire attack devolved into an insurrection. Boko Haram killed around 11,000 civilians, and the fighting displaced almost two million people.

Yemeni Civil War

The Yemeni Civil War, one of the deadliest wars, arose due to Middle East uprisings and the instability of the Al Abd Allah li regime. The battle was fierce between government soldiers and tribal groups. He was subsequently the subject of an assassination attempt, which resulted in terrible injuries. Abd Rabbuh Mar Had taken over when he flew from Yemen for specific medical care.

In reaction to the demonstrations, they resorted to violence. As a result, many began to support anti-government protests. The rebels stormed Sanaa and took over the presidential palace. Despite being confined under house arrest, Had managed to flee. A violent struggle erupted between them and forces loyal to Li. The United Nations estimated that 10,000 people died in the fighting, with 4,000 civilians among them.

Ukraine Conflict

In November 2013, Viktor Yanukovych broke a much-awaited association agreement with the EU to make closer ties with Russia. As a result, street protests erupted in Kiev, and demonstrators created a permanent camp in the city square. There were violent clashes between the forces and protesters, with the government security forces opening up fire on the protesters. As a result, many died, and thousands were wounded. The protests made Yanukovych lose power, and he fled to Russia.

After that, Russian troops started taking up government buildings in Crimea, and a pro-Russian party seized control of the regional government. By 2014, pro-Russian forces had overrun considerable territory, and Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by Russian surface-to-air missiles. Though a cease-fire was signed in February 2015, it slowed by didn’t stop the bloodshed. An estimate of 10,000 people, the majority of which were civilians, died in the fighting.


The deadliest wars in the history of the world saw millions of casualties, both in forces and in civilians. Wars have seen humans fighting each other, primarily over territory and power. These wars have also erased thousands of people from around the world. Many of these have, in fact, made a mark in world history. With the advancement of technology and the ever-growing population count of today, the next war (God forbid none happen!) will result in an unprecedented count of deaths.  Let’s not hope there are ever any deadliest wars.

The present COVID-19 pandemic that took scores of lives from around the globe is equal enough to a war and a catastrophe in itself!


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