WWI persepc

WWI In Perspective: How The Great War Compares To Modern Warfare

by Jens-Olaf Walter courtesy of Flickr 

August 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of WWI. Though we are a century removed from The Great War, we decided to take a look back and see just how much warfare, and its impact, has metamorphosed.

The Casualties

One of the major discrepancies between WWI and the ongoing war in Afghanistan is in the department of U.S. casualties. A major factor is, of course, the scale and breadth of WWI as well as advancements in remote warfare. But major strides in medical technology may also play a key role in this glaring difference.

Of the 4.3 million U.S. troops mobilized in WWI 323,018 of them were killed, giving WWI a 7.1 percent casualty rate.

On the other hand, the total casualty rate for Iraq and Afghanistan was just .3 percent (6800 of 2.2 million)

If wounded in action during WWI, one’s chances of dying were exponentially higher as seen in the relationship between the wounded and casualty totals during WWI. Only 2500 of the 204,000 soldiers injured in WWI survived being wounded in action; that’s just over 1 percent.

The Cost

Though the casualty rate in WWI is a gruesome statistic that (fortunately) the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will never top, our modern wars are still astoundingly costly—albeit in a significantly less violent manner.

Total U.S.Cost of WWI: 334 billion dollars (adjusted for inflation)

Cost of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010: 2.25 trillion dollars (Iraq, Afghanistan, and all post 9/11 war combined) — however, some estimates project the taxpayer cost to be from 4-6 trillion.

However, the Congressional Research Service study from which these figures are derived does not include veterans benefits, interest on war-related debt, or assistance to allies. Additionally, for post 9/11 operations the report does not include the cost of reconstruction assistance, diplomatic security, or any other cost accrued by any other agency outside of the DOD.

The impacts of such costs differences are also up for debate when taking into account GDP discrepancies. Despite the overall spending on both wars drastically favoring the contemporary, the current U.S. GDP is significantly higher than during the WWI era.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”afV00AiMWxzRWvCGGue82iwXYjZavIwW”]The Aftermath

As previously highlighted in the casualty section, the overwhelming majority of those injured in WWI died as a direct result of their injuries sustained during the war. In today’s warfare, however, many of those that would have surely died a century ago are now alive. This has resulted in a monumental influx of veterans and has spawned a myriad of post-war complications for the VA, and more importantly the veterans themselves.

The DOD lists 52,010 soldiers wounded in action during Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but according to Cost of War, 970,000 Veteran disability claims have been registered with the VA of of March 3, 2014.

A major unintended consequence in drastically reducing the number of casualties has been the necessity to treat the effects of war from a mental perspective—especially in terms of PTSD. According to Veterans Health Administration data collected in Dec 2013 over 20 percent of veterans are affected by PTSD. This has consequently flooded the VA with claims which has contributed to the historically catastrophic VA backlog.

In comparison, since the medical awareness surrounding PTSD barely existed, those troops who survived WWI were labeled as “shell shocked” and often received poor medical treatment as a result. Joanna Bourke, author of “An Intimate History of Killing,” estimates that by 1917, just a year before the wars end, there were already 80,000 cases of “shell shock” in the british army.


We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?



James Pero