In which major American war did a soldier have the best chance of survival?

The easiest way to figure out the odds of surviving any particular war is to compare the number of people who served with the number of people who died.

For the sake of encompassing all the dangers of war—bullets, bombs, epidemics, mistreatment in POW camps, deaths while traveling to and from, even getting run down by 19-year-old jeep drivers—we’ll consider all deaths that occurred “in service.”

Here are our best estimates for the odds of survival for a soldier in the U.S. Army, according to statistics provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs:

Revolutionary War
Participants: 290,000
Deaths in service: 4,000
Chance of dying: 1 chance in 22.3

War of 1812
Participants: 287,000
Deaths in service: 2,000
Chance of dying: 1 in 143.5

Indian Wars
Participants: 106,000
Deaths in service: 1,000
Chance of dying: 1 in 106

Mexican War
Participants: 79,000
Deaths in service: 13,000
Chance of dying: 1 in 6.5 (only 1,800 died in battle; many more died from smallpox and syphilis)

Civil War
Participants: 2,213,000 (United States side only) Deaths in service: 364,000
Chance of dying: 1 in 6
Spanish-American War Participants: 392,000
Deaths in service: 11,000 Chance of dying: 1 in 35.6

World War I
Participants: 4,744,000
Deaths in service: 116,000
Chance of dying: 1 in 40.9

World War II
Participants: 16,535,000
Deaths in service: 406,000
Chance of dying: 1 in 40.7

Korean War
Participants: 6,807,000
Deaths in service: 55,000
Chance of dying: 1 in 123.8

Vietnam War
Participants: 9,200,000
Deaths in service: 109,000
Chance of dying: 1 in 84.4

Gulf War
Participants: 3,900,000
Deaths in service: 8,200
Chance of dying: 1 in 475.6

America’s Total Wars
Participants: 41,902,000
Deaths in service: 1,089,200
Average chance of dying: I in 38.5

Put it all together, and you’ll quickly note that the safest war for an American soldier was the Gulf War.

The most dangerous was the Civil War: a soldier’s chance for survival was only 1 in 6—the same odds as playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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