Friday, June 5, 2015

A Sense of Perspective

Yesterday io9.com posted a very interesting video that visualizes and puts into perspective all the of the people who died, both military and civilian, during World War Two.

The video is about eighteen minutes long, but please take the time to watch it.

Now that World War Two is 70 years in the past and most of the survivors are dead there is a tendency when talking about casualties to fall into the A Million Is A Statistic trope.  This video succeeds in shaking one out of that mindset by the simple visualizations of the of the graphics.

In particular I commend the creator for really giving the the time to Soviet casualties that they really deserved.  There is a tendency here in the West to ignore the apocalyptic scope of the war on the Eastern Front and the millions of Soviet citizens who died largely as the result of Stalin's use of human wave attacks on the offense and keeping civilians in the cities being fought over on the defense.  Because most of the casualty records have only become available since the end of the Cold War the sheer level of death and destruction has never really been given the play in the US and western Europe that is should.  And it also goes a long way to explain post-war Soviet paranoia.

The section on civilian casualties is particularly chilling.  Besides providing a good visualization of all the Nazi victims of the Holocaust including Roma, gays, other religious and political minorities they also pointed out that Poland suffered the highest percentage of deaths of any country because of the systemic Nazi abuse of the population.  Add in both German and Russian complete indifference to civilians on the Eastern Front as mentioned above.  And the Western Allies don't get a free pass on the civilian deaths front either with a very clear showing of the effect of targeting German and Japanese cities for aerial bombardment.

But in the midst of all these depressing numbers, at the end once actually gets a bit of a surprising sense of perspective of the world today.  Looking at the headlines one gets a feeling that that the world is going to hell in a handbasket with wars, death and destruction seemingly everywhere.  But when you visually compare the relatively low intensity fighting going on in the Middle East and elsewhere to the shear level of carnage of the six years of WW2 you can think "If my grandparents could live through that and stay sane, I can certainly not give in to the fearmongering created by the 24/7 news cycle of today."

Finally, I did like the bit where they scaled WW2 deaths and all other major conflicts in history to world population at the time and when it comes to causing death and destruction, Genghis Khan makes both Hitler and Stalin look like pikers.


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