Friday, November 12, 2010

War and demography

The 11th of November is Remembrance Day in Canada and other Commonwealth countries, known as Veterans Day in the United States or as Armistice Day in France and elsewhere. As a commemoration of the first industrialized mass war of the 20th century and prototype for the broader second, it's a unifying symbol.

War impacts demographics. Obviously. My co-blogger The Oberamtmann at History and Futility noted that in a piece of his examining Armistice Day in France.

In World War One, America lost 117,465, 0.13% of the population, and fought only at the end. The standard narrative of the war is fresh American troops coming and making the difference because they had not already been fighting for four straight years. France lost 1,697,800 soldiers and civilians, making up 4.29% of the population, a much bigger blow. The vast majority of World War One’s Western Front was on French soil. France’s early defeat in World War Two spared it from many of the human losses, in terms of body count, that it suffered in World War One. World War Two was America’s second-bloodiest war after the Civil War. I think France limiting November 11 to the First World War is a sensible decision.

Not, it should be noted, that France did better than the United States in the second, particularly insofar as civilian losses were concerned, just that losses were well below one percent of the population.

War changes demographics, through decreased natality and increased mortality, through forced migrations and rapid sectoral change in economies, through the different tissues of human relationships torn and knitted, through its asymmetrical impacts on different populations. France might well not have been such a magnet for immigration in the 1920s and 1930s had its population of young working-age men not been gutted; communal tensions in Canada, themselves partly motivated by demographics, were aggravated greatly by the First World War in particular; the relationships of Poles and Ukrainians with their shared province of Galicia has coloured the 20th century to a surprising degree; a partial homogenization of German culture across regions may owe much to the resettlement and redistribution of ethnic Germans from across central Europe across West Germany. War changes a lot of things.

What specific changes, or impacts, come to your mind?

3 comments:

ironrailsironweights said...

One theory claims that World War II is partly responsible for the legendary beauty of Russian and Eastern European women. With so many men having died in the war, the survivors had their pick of women in the postwar years. Only the more beautiful women were chosen for marriage, and they passed on their beauty to their daughters and granddaughters.

Whether this theory is actually true is anyone's guess, and chances are there's no way it could ever be tested. One thing I'll note is that Brazil is also famous for the beauty of its women, yet it's never fought any wars in ages.

Peter

Sublime Oblivion said...

Atrocious theory. If that were the case Paraguay should be churning out Miss Worlds non-stop given that it lost about 75% of its male population during the War of the Triple Alliance. And if you examine the mortality rates of wars in hunter-gatherer societies...

ironrailsironweights said...

Another thing that pushes the theory perilously close to urban legend territory is the fact that the USSR suffered massive civilian as well as military casualties during WWII. In other words, the war reduced the supply of women as well as the supply of men, albeit not to quite the same extent.

Peter