Hail the 50,000.
That’s the approximate number of American colonial soldiers that were killed or wounded in the struggle to gain independence from Britain. It’s a big number. But when you consider the population of the colonies at that time was approximately 4 million, it represents only 1.25 percent of the total population.
Here’s a much bigger number: 1,000,000. In World War 2, America sacrificed an astounding 1 million soldiers. But the population of the country at that time was about 150 million. So that’s less than 1 percent.
Our most grievous conflict by far was the Civil War. On the northern side, 3.2% of the total population was killed or wounded, while on the southern side, the number was probably near 10%.
Now, all these numbers are based on total population – including females as well as males of non-fighting-age – so the percentage of deaths among fighting-age men is probably 3 to 4 times greater. (For example, some historians believe that, during the Civil War, 1 out of every 3 southern men of fighting age was killed or wounded.) And these numbers also account only for military casualties, and don’t include the tremendous loss and suffering among common citizens.
But consider this: throughout our history, approximately 3 million Americans have been killed or wounded in military action. And based on our current population of 300 million people, the total number of Americans who’ve ever lived is probably on the order of 1 billion. Which means that for every 1000 Americans who’ve ever lived, only 3 have given the last full measure of devotion.
3 out of 1000.
So this weekend, fire up the grill, crack open a beer, and enjoy time with your friends and family. But also take a moment to reflect on the mathematics of Memorial Day.
And give thanks for the sacrifices of the one-third-percent.