Photo: Planet News Archive/SSPL (Getty).
Listen, history buffs, we could argue any number of wars should be on this list. And we can argue about the causes and aftermath of each war. But I want peace. I realize I threw around some insane numbers below. I would recommend just thinking on those numbers. Millions upon millions of people have died because they were told to fight for something. That something might have been a cause they were willing to die for — maybe it was a cause they weren’t willing to die for — but they died nonetheless. So, if you are alive and on this planet right now, someone in your family tree was killed in a war. We wanted to come up with a list that not only ranked the carnage of war, but also how it impacted the world. Let’s get into it.
5.) The American Civil War (1861-1865)
Sure, this is a homer pick, but America wouldn’t have been the global superpower that it is today if we had been split into two countries. It’s tough to get a hard number on deaths for any war, so for ease of reading, I’m just going to use a round number based on the median consensus. In the American Civil War, around 1 million people died. If your family had been in America during this time, they knew someone who was killed during this war.
4.) The Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864)
Religious wars are the “best” wars! If you throw some religion in the mix, you can bet that A LOT of people are going to die. This war was fought between the Qing Dynasty and the millenarian movement of Heavenly Kingdom of Peace. Fun fact: One of the leaders of the millenarian sect Hong Xiuquan believed he was Jesus’ younger brother. Hong was an old-school Christian, one that believed in an angry God. And despite not allowing his soldiers to have intercourse, he was, of course, allowed to huge harem. Ain’t that the way it goes?
What was the aftermath of this war? Scholars say there were many, but in my opinion, it was basically just bodies. The millenarian movement was squashed. Then bands of rebels formed (and then were squashed). It was hard to find death toll numbers that didn’t vary widely, so I’m again going to pick the median: 25 million dead. If one of your buddies starts telling people he’s related to Jesus and you are not allowed to have sex, and then the government starts knocking at your door, it’s probably best to pull a Judas.
3.) Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire (1519-1521)
This war reads like an episode of Game of Thrones. In this war, Hernán Cortés and Xicotencatl the Younger gathered up everyone that hated the Aztecs and cleaned house. After the capture of the Aztec leader Motecuhzoma II, Cortes left a dude named Pedro de Alvarado in charge. Alvarado threw a party for the Aztec Noblemen in the Temple of Tenochtitlan. And while everyone was having a good time and getting their drink on, he massacred them. That’s some Red Wedding stuff right there.
The lasting effects of this war paved the way for the Spanish overseas empire and what would later become Mexico. The death toll, which varies because of death by disease, is around 24 million.
Want to cram your brain with more knowledge? Crave’s Must-Read Books About War
2.) World War II (1939-1945)
UPSET ALERT! How could the deadliest war in human history with the most significant after effects not be number 1? Well, I’ll tell you. World War II would have never been if it weren’t for all the things set in motion with World War I. There is way too much stuff happening in both of these wars to water down in this article, but here goes: A dictator invaded another country, that country and its allies fought the invading country and it’s allies, and then other countries jumped in. And America killed a bunch of civilians with atomic bombs. The death toll was around 58 million. That number is just crazy. And remember, it’s the median. Some estimates put it as high as 80 million. In a war on this scale, it’s tough to list all the after effects.
1.) World War I (1914-1918)
Like most of you, I used to think WWII was the greatest war in history in terms of its significance. In terms of bodycount, it was. But it wasn’t until I listened to Blueprint to Armageddon by Dan Carlin that I changed my mind. WWI is WAY more interesting than WWII. We have the greatest militaries in the world at the time facing off against each other. They have modern day weapons, and are going against armies that are still using tactics from the times when you’d just meet on a field, shoot at each other and then start again the next day. You have horses going against artillery. It’s just crazy. And without WWI, the stage wouldn’t have been set for WWII. Which is why I placed WWI at the top spot. Death toll was around 20 million, in case you were curious.