I came across a very interesting data journey through the human costs of WW2. I’ve done quite a bit of reading about war and specifically WW2 on Wikipedia and elsewhere, but wanted to share this as it is a powerful and visual depiction of how much the world lost during the conflict. It is worth taking some time to watch the video and interact with the graphics, which are really well done.
It is mind boggling how many deaths resulted from the 6 year conflict. From the seaborne invasions of Europe and islands throughout the Pacific, to the stalemates and carnage of the Eastern front and Asia, to the industrialized system of death created and administered to by Germany, there was so much destruction during the war.
Recently, I’ve had a fascination with WW1, which on paper lacks the numbers of devastation compared to is more recent colleague. However, it captures the imagination in different ways. World War 1, especially on the stalemate of the Western front, just seems like the epitome of the pointlessness of war (although the Eastern front of WW2 certainly is of the same ilk – I just know less about it).
In the 4 years of the war, the front hardly moved in many regions. Trench warfare and the new technologies of the age – including poison gas, flamethrowers, shelling unlike what had been seen before – led to horrendous conditions for soldiers. Millions of men died for nothing lost and nothing gained. The reasons behind the war also add to my feeling, as the competing alliances did not have a strong motivation for war – there is no strong good versus evil story line for the war that could help to detract from the apparent senselessness of the war. It is hard for me to see it as anything other than a spark in a tinderbox.
You can still see marks of the war on the landscape. Wikipedia features a number of examples of contemporary landscapes where evidence of the war still lingers.
In certain areas, the shelling was so intense that it has left lasting hazards to people today. To get a sense for the scale:
During World War I an estimated one tonne of explosives was fired for every square metre of territory on the Western front. As many as one in every three shells fired did not detonate. In the Ypres Salient, an estimated 300 million projectiles that the British and the Germans forces fired at each other during World War I were duds, and most of them have not been recovered. In 2013, 160 tonnes of munitions, from bullets to 15 inch naval gun shells, were unearthed from the areas around Ypres.
During the yearly so-called Iron Harvest, farmers unearth tonnes of bullets, shells, and other debris – and this has been going on for nearly a century! There are still areas within the ‘Zone Rouge’ where it is still dangerous to go today.
While there are certainly challenges we face in the current geopolitical world, it is important to remember how comparatively fortunate we are to be born in the current time. The scope and scale of conflict has gone down dramatically. Globalization and travel have brought a lot of the world together, creating their own problems, but greatly increasing what can be lost through war and removing a lot of the potential gains. We are less likely to die or fight in wars today than at any other point in recent history, and that is worth celebrating. Remembering the past, especially in such a compelling way, is also imperative so we can hope to avoid future conflict of such scale and destruction.