Deaths … In Perspective

Amid the current Cpvid-19 crisis, we are preoccupied with getting sick and dying, and rightfully so. We fear the unknown and the unexpected. We fear what we do not understand. We fear what we cannot control. All this is exacerbated when death is a possible outcome.

Deaths Caused by Crises

Some causes of multiple deaths originate in nature, such as meteorological, geological, or biological events. Some are accidents or the result of human actions. The crises may last just a few moments, a few days, or a few years. All come as a shock and that’s what makes them noteworthy.

Events like hurricanes and earthquakes have caused tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S., and many more globally. The Galveston Hurricane od 1900 killed 8,000 in just two days. Someday, this death toll may be exceeded by the next anticipated earthquake on the San Andreas fault or the eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano. But by far, the deadliest crises the U.S. has faced are pandemics. Since 1980, the AIDS epidemic has accounted for 675,000 lives. The Spanish Flu killed 675,000 in just two years. Covid-19 has killed over 208,000 in just eight months, with no end in sight. For all our advances in science and technology, these are deaths we can rarely foresee and prepare for let alone control.

CrisesTime PeriodDeathsDeaths
per Day
Deaths per PopulationSource
Galveston Hurricane19008,0004,0000.01%2
San Francisco Earthquake19083,0003,0000.003%2
September 11th20012,9962,9960.001%2
Jonestown Flood18892,2092,2090.004%2
Peshtigo Wildfire18712,0002,0000.005%2
Sultana Shipwreck18651,7001,7000.005%2
Spanish Flu1918 to 1919675,0009250.66%5
Jonestown Suicide19789189180.0004%2
Covid-192/15 to 9/26/2020208,4408980.06%9
Hurricane Katrina20051,2003000.0004%2
North American Drought1988 to 199010,000140.004%2

Deaths Caused by Wars

Some deaths we can only blame on ourselves; wars are the prime example. In the U.S., the Civil War was responsible for 755,000 deaths, the horrific number being the result of virtually all the combatants being Americans. World War II was about half of that. Given the size of the U.S. population at the time, about 1% of all Americans were killed fighting for our independence. Democracy comes at a cost. As time has gone on, we have become more efficient at killing. Our causality rates have diminished while we kill more and more of our adversaries.

WarsTime PeriodDeathsDeaths
per Day
Deaths per PopulationSource
Civil War1861 to 1865755,0005202.39%1
Revolutionary War1775 to 178325,000111.00%1
World War II1941 to 1945405,3992970.31%1
War of 18121812 to 181515,000150.21%1
World War I1917 to 1918116,5162790.11%1
Mexican–American War1846 to 184813,283290.06%1
Vietnam War1961 to 197558,209110.03%1
Korean War1950 to 195336,574300.02%1
Philippine–American War1899 to 19024,19640.006%1
Spanish–American War18982,24690.004%1
Iraq War2003 to 20114,57620.002%1
War in Afghanistan2001-Present2,2160.40.001%1

Deaths Caused by Familiar Risks

We sometimes overlook some causes of death when we see them as inevitable or they don’t affect us personally. Nonetheless, familiar causes of deaths account for the most lives. Illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, strokes, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and respiratory diseases kill almost two million Americans every year on average. Medical researchers are working to address these diseases, but cures are a long way off. Medicine hasn’t been able to do much about some health-related problems, like malpractice, overdoses, and suicides, which account for half a million deaths every year. We try to prevent accidents, especially automotive and workplace accidents, but these risks kill well over a hundred thousand Americans every year. Gun violence may only take 20,000 lives a year, but it ia a national disgrace.

Common CausesTime PeriodDeathsDeaths
per Day
Deaths per PopulationSource
Heart disease2017647,4571,7740.20%10
Medical malpractice2013 calculated251,4546890.08%8
Prescription Drug Overdoses2015-2019 Average209,8765750.06%4
Respiratory diseases2017160,2014390.05%10
Alzheimer’s disease2017121,4043330.04%10
Illegal Drug Overdoses2015-2019 Average55,8601530.02%4
Gun violence2014-2019 Average14,457400.004%6
People Killed by Police2015-2019 Average4,93830.002%3

Deaths in Perspective

Death is inevitable. We will all have to deal with it eventually. Whether it comes as a result of some natural disaster, a war, an illness, or some societal problem, doesn’t matter. But, we all need to do whatever we can to minimize our risks. Live a healthy lifestyle, avoid exposure to diseases like Covid-19, and vote for leaders who will eschew wars and other forms of violence.

June 22, 2020

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