This weekend I visited the National WWII Museum in New Orleans and was stunned by a few related facts:
- While estimates of the number of deaths in WWII vary, the National WWII Museum estimates about 65 Million people died in WWII, consisting of about 15-20 million military and battle deaths and 45 million civilian deaths. They acknowledge that 65 Million may be a low estimate.
- 80% of all casualties in World War II came from just four countries: Soviet Union, China, Germany and Poland. Over 50% of the casualties were civilian.
- The Soviet Union had the greatest number of deaths at about 24 million.
- China is second with 20 million deaths!!!!!
- As a point of reference, the U.S. had 418,500 deaths and the U.K. had 450,700 deaths
Prior to this weekend I wasn’t aware that China played a role in WWII, and I was stunned to find that they suffered the second greatest loss of life. I’ve been quizzing all sorts of people and I am not alone – China’s role in WWII seems to be ignored in American history classrooms. In fact, historian Rana Mitter published a book about China in WWII called Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945 which highlights China’s role in the war and discusses how/why those of us in the West seem to be unaware of their important role. Here are a few interesting facts about China’s role in WWII:
- China was an ally to the U.S. and U.K. from just after Pearl Harbor to the end of the war.
- Their war with Japan started in 1937 two years prior to Germany’s invasion of Poland, usually considered the start of WWII. China’s war against Japan lasted eight years! Japanese occupation of some parts of China began as early as 1931.
- The majority (our tour guide said 80%) of the Imperial Japanese Army was tied up with fighting China while the U.S. and other allies were engaged against Japan in the Pacific theater of the war. Without China’s continued battle with Japan, our fighting with Japan would likely have been much more difficult and the outcome could have been different.
- According to historian Rana Mitter, the reason China is a permanent voting member of the U.N. Security Council (along with the U.S., Russia, France and the U.K.) is due to its being an ally in WWII.
- The famous American flying squadron “The Flying Tigers” commanded by Claire Lee Chennault fought against the Japanese in China and had a mission of defending China against the Japanese.