Back   Balance Sheet of the First World War

The casualties of the World War were so astoundingly extensive as to be almost unbelievable. Kirby Page lists them in the table below:

 

CASUALTIES OF THE WORLD WAR OF 1914

 

Known dead

Seriously wounded

Otherwise wounded

Prisoners or missing

Russia

2,762,064

1,000,000

3,950,000

2,500,000

Germany

1,611,104

1,600,000

2,183,143

772,522

France

1,427,800

700,000

2,344,000

453,500

Austria-Hungary

911,000

850,000

2,150,000

443,000

Great Britain

807,451

617,714

1,441,394

64,907

Serbia

707,343

322,000

28,000

100,000

Italy

507,160

500,000

462,196

1,359,000

Turkey

436,924

107,772

300,000

103,731

Rumania

339,117

200,000

......

116,000

Belgium

267,000

40,000

100,000

10,000

United States

107,284

43,000

148,000

4,912

Bulgaria

101,224

300,000

852,339

10,825

Greece

15,000

10,000

30,000

45,000

Portugal

4,000

5,000

12,000

200

Japan

300

........

907

3

Totals

9,998,771

6,295,512

14,002,039

5,983,600

 

Page further details some of the more prominent of the human costs of the war:

10,000,000

known dead soldiers

3,000,000

presumed dead soldiers

13,000,000

dead civilians

20,000,000

wounded

3,000,000

prisoners

9,000,000

war orphans

5,000,000

war widows

10,000,000

refugees

 The total immediate economic cost of the war has been estimated by a careful student, Professor E. L. Bogart, at $331,600,000,000. Some of the specific economic losses have been computed as follows: (1) Munitions and machines of war during the four years of fighting, $180,000,000,000; (2) property losses on land, $29,960,000,000; (3) losses to shipping, $6,800,000,000; (4) production losses through diverted and non-economic production, $45,000,000,000.

These are simply immediate economic losses—those things which were actually consumed during the conflict. No account is taken of subsequent costs such as interest on loans, retirement of loans, pensions, and the like. Writing shortly after the war was over, Professor E. L. Bogart commented as follows on the matter of immediate war costs:

The figures . . . are both incomprehensible and appalling, yet even these do not take into account the effect of the war on life, human vitality, economic well being, ethics, morality, or other phases of human relationships and activities which have been disorganized and injured. It is evident from the present disturbances in Europe that the real costs cannot be measured by the direct money outlays of the belligerents in the five years of its duration, but that  the very breakdown of modern economic life might be the price exacted.

 

The editor of the Scholastic magazine made an ingenious effort to translate these figures of war costs into terms that we can visualize. He indicated that the cost of the World War of 1914 would have been sufficient to furnish: (1) every family in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Russia, the United States, Canada, and Australia with a $2,500 house on a $500 one-acre lot, with $1,000 worth of furniture; (2) a $5,000,000 library for every community of 200,000 inhabitants in these countries; (3) a $10,000,000 university for every such community; (4) a fund that at 5 percent interest would yield enough to pay indefinitely $1,000 a year to an army of 125,000 teachers and 125,000 nurses; and (5) still leave enough to buy every piece of property and all wealth in France and Belgium at a fair market price. Such was what it cost to return Alsace-Lorraine to France, to try to get the Straits for Russia, and to punish Serbian plotters.

President Calvin Coolidge, relying on Secretary Mellon's estimates, once frankly stated that the ultimate cost to us of the participation of the United States in the World War would, in his opinion, be $100,000,000,000. Indeed, Professor Frank Dickinson has estimated that "the total post-war cost of the World War to our nation in terms of post-war price recessions and depressions probably exceeds $200,000,000,000." On January 16, 1935, the direct cost of the World War, exclusive of $11,600,000,000 of war loans abroad, to the United States was officially declared to be $50,000,000,000. Another estimate, in 1939, put the figure at $57,000,000,000. In 1916 our Federal budget was $735,000,000; in 1919, $18,500,000,000; and in 1938, $7,760,000,000.

Harry Elmer Barnes, The World War of 1914-1918 (1940)

Barnes was an American historian