Lethality in War by Numbers

Seeing how the word “Lethality” has developed a life of its own….I decided to take a look at what was discussed on lethality in my book War by Numbers. Just to clarify, I have never considered how “lethality” should be defined or what its definition should consist of, but simply used the word as commonly used in American English.

I ended up discussing lethality in two chapters of my book: Chapter 13: The Effects of Dispersion on Combat, and Chapter 15: Casualties.

In Chapter 13: The Effects of Dispersion on Combat, I discuss it only the most general way. For example: “The effectiveness and lethality of weapons have continued to increase over the past four hundred years, yet the loss rates among forces in combat have declined.” (page 161) and “He postulated that forces continued to disperse over time to compensate for the increased lethality of weapons.” (also page 161). This chapter, pages 161-173, should probably be read by anyone looking to discuss “lethality.”

In Chapter 15: Casualties, I discuss lethality as related to wounded-to-killed ratio and specific weapons that wound and/or kill. There is an entire section in the book called “Lethality of Weapons” (page 183). This looks at the percent of people killed among those wounded by weapon. So there are multiple tables showing the “Lethality of Weapon,” some drawn from the Textbook of Military Medicine. This is a fairly extended discussion that addresses the lethality of weapons over multiple weapons over multiple wars. It then morphs into a discussion of wounded-to-killed ratios (pages 181-205). Lethality in this case refers to people killed or died of wounds.

Again, I am not comfortable by what recent writers mean by their use of the word “lethality.”

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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One comment

  1. Yes, having “lethality” include destructiveness (which some dictionaries include as one of the definitions) doesn’t seem to be appropriate since the word is from Late Latin lethalis, an alteration of Latin letalis “deadly, fatal,” which is from lethum/letum “death” — maybe the idea is to include the “death” of things as well as people.

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