Bryan Caplan  

What's the Worst War Since WWII?

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According to Reuters, it's the Second Congo War (1999-2003) aka Africa's World War and the Great War of Africa:

(Reuters) - War, disease and malnutrition are killing 45,000 Congolese every month in a conflict-driven humanitarian crisis that has claimed 5.4 million victims in nearly a decade, a survey released on Tuesday said.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which carried out the study with Australia's Burnet Institute, said Democratic Republic of Congo's 1998-2003 war and its aftermath had caused more deaths than any other conflict since World War Two.

"Congo's loss is equivalent to the entire population of Denmark or the state of Colorado perishing within a decade," George Rupp, president of the aid group, said in a statement.

Despite the nominal 2003 end of the war, the horror continues.  After a civil war or two, even Mobutu looks good by comparison.

Update: Can anyone point to credible estimates of Mobutu's body count?  He's named on this list of top mass murderers, but in the victim column there's a question mark instead of number.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
N. writes:

I see. So given the choice between totalitarian thugocracy and complete chaos, you would back the former? I think history pretty clearly demonstrates that this is the majority preference, even if I find that I can't agree.

It does put me in mind of that old Woody Allen quote: "[M]ankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."


Snorri Godhi writes:

The previous comment makes a good point, supported by the fact that the Great Leap Forward was probably responsible for more deaths than all conflicts after ww2 put together.

In any case, we do not have the option of going back to Mobutu: the plain fact is that it would almost certainly be impossible to pacify the Eastern Congo without Mongol methods. [ie the methods that my favorite mass murderer used to impose the Pax Mongolica on Asia.]

It makes sense, though, to ask how this tragedy came to be. I suspect that a crucial factor was Bill Clinton's decision to pull out of Somalia.

Another historical question closely related to this post: excluding Hitler and Stalin, who was the worst European mass murderer of all time?

B.B. writes:

I suggest that a band of countries in the Middle East -- Afghanistan, Iran,Iraq -- together for the past 31 years constitutes a single large conflict that has had a larger death toll and economic cost than the Congo War.

As for the earlier question, I would put Napolean as the biggest mass murderer.

ThomasL writes:

Mobuto and anarchy are not the only two possible states.

I might point out that for half a century (post Leopold; pre Mobuto) the Belgian Congo was a decently safe, prosperous, and thriving place -- before the shining triumph of US foreign policy forced a withdrawal by the Belgian government ca. 1960.

agnostic writes:

"I might point out that for half a century (post Leopold; pre Mobuto) the Belgian Congo was a decently safe, prosperous, and thriving place"

And for the century between the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion, France was pretty peaceful. Then for another half a century it was peaceful again, until the Fronde. Then for another century it was peaceful once more, until the Revolution and Napoleon.

Central Africa is still stuck in the Malthusian and Hobbesian trap, so they will experience cycles of devastating war for the next several hundred years at least. Mexico and Russia might emerge as pacified free-market democracies by then, but no way in sub-Saharan Africa.

Also worth remembering that Central Africa is a much nastier place than other places in black Africa. All those stories you hear about people being butchered so their body parts can be sold to witch doctors, albinos hunted for their magical properties, etc. -- that's endemic in Central Africa. You don't really hear that about Namibia and thereabouts.

Furthermore, this has been true for as long as Europeans have recorded what they've seen. Back in Conrad's day, Central Africa looked disgusting, while no one near Namibia or the Boers observing blacks in South Africa gave a similar portrayal of the local Africans. Central Africa has something different in its environment or gene pool compared to the rest of Africa, and those don't seem to have changed much, so it'll probably remain the most gruesome region in Africa for centuries to come.

Snorri Godhi writes:

Can anyone point to credible estimates of Mobutu's body count?

There is something at this site:
http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstatx.htm

You'll have to search for "Congo", follow the links for the various events during Mobutu's rule, and then add up the figures.

I also looked at RJ Rummel's site:
http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/
but nothing turns up on a google search for Mobutu.

He's named on this list of top mass murderers [...]

In that list, the figures for Lenin and Chiang Kai Shek are quite low: I think you can find figures of about 4M and 10M, respectively, on one or both of my links.

Also, the figure for Leopold II [missing at your link] is about 8M to 10M, and he is of course the third worst European mass murderer of all time; or possibly the single worst, if we count the victims as a proportion of the population under his control.

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