The 20th century: the century of violent death

I’m in the process of writing my 23rd short story [you can access all the previous stories here].  As background research for this particular story, I wanted some estimate of the scale of violent death in the 20th century. We all know that it was an unprecedented period of human history in terms of wars and persecutions – but most us don’t know the headline total and the details are utterly chilling.

Obviously there are many estimates of the total death toll and there are many problems with the sources used, but one detailed estimate is a figure of some 188 million people. That’s more than three times the entire current population of the United Kingdom.

Matthew White, who compiled the relevant statistics, calls the 20th century experience “the Hemoclysm” which he defines as “that string of interconnected barbarities which have made the Twentieth Century so fascinating for historians and so miserable for real people”.

The statistics for the 30 events with the highest death tolls are listed here. The four biggest sources of deaths were the First World War and the Second World War plus the Russian Civil War & Stalin’s purges and the Chinese Civil War and Mao’s policies. You can see the statistics here.


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