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The odds of dying in an American war (applying the Lt. Dan scale)

Every life matters and the honor of making the ultimate sacrifice is timeless. But casualty counts in the United States' current conflicts are relatively low relative to previous wars.


Of course, no competent warfighter signs on to die for his (or her) country (because as we all know by now (and as General George S. Patton famously said during World War II), the whole point of war is to make the other poor bastard die for his (or her) country).

But what if you lived in another time? Would you have survived the Civil War or World War I?

In the movie "Forrest Gump" Forrest notes that Lt. Dan "was from a long, great military tradition -- somebody from his family had fought and died in every single American war."

So what do the Lt. Dan family's odds look like on paper? WATM has the answer:

The American Revolution

1 in 50 - 2 percent

Lieutenant Dan's ancestor wasn't so lucky, but these are relatively good odds considering the conditions at the time and the nature of how the Revolutionary War was fought. Back then FOBs meant New York, Boston, and Saratoga Springs. Orders to Valley Forge? Get ready for cold and a diet of nothing but bread.

Civil War

1 in 15 - 6.7 percent

Tough luck, Lieutenant Dan . . . and everyone else. If you add the Union and Confederate Army casualties vs. the best assumed total number of troops, the rate of killed and injured is a staggering 43 percent. As of 2013, the government was still paying veterans benefits related to the Civil War (and those people were probably waiting in line since 1962).

World War One

1 in 89 - 1.1 percent

This is where the combat starts to look more familiar, except for the whole "running at a machine gun" thing. It's surprising the numbers aren't much, much higher since human wave attacks were standard operating procedure. A cool twenty bucks (which went much further in 1917) says Lieutenant Dan's ancestor in "The Great War" was suffering from trench foot and Jerry just put him out of his misery, which is probably why his standing order in Vietnam was to change socks at every stop.

World War Two

1 in 56 - 1.8 percent

Lieutenant Dan's surprised look probably stems from the low number for this one too. Keep in mind, this is just the rate for the American Army. The Soviet Union lost 26 million people, significantly more than the losses suffered by the army that actually lost. (That would be the German Army for you history buffs.)

Vietnam War

1 in 185 - .5 percent

Lieutenant Dan lives (severely wounded in his case, but alive). Of all America's major wars, Vietnam offered best odds of survival. It also had (arguably) the highest quality of life in the field (very much dependent of where you served in-country), and the best food. (There might be a correlation between those things.)