Syria's Civil War in Perspective

The Syrian Civil War has been going on for four years now. It is being waged quite barbarously However, before the world reacts, we should put everything in perspective. While terrible, Syria's war is rather mild by the standards of historical civil wars. Right, now a high estimate of 330,000 deaths related to Syrian struggle is floated around. However, the American Civil War killed more than twice as many people in a similar four-year time span.

J. David Hacker, a demographic historian from Binghamton University in New York, has recalculated the death toll and increased it by more than 20 percent — to 750,000. - NY Times, 2012

The American Civil War death rate was out of a population that was approximately 31 million according to the 1860 Census of the United States. Roughly that corresponded to 2.4% of the total American population at that time.

They Syrian Civil War has killed anywhere between 140,000 and 330,000, depending on who is asked. Assuming the higher number is accurate - probably exaggerated - and given Syria's pre-war population of 23 Million, the percentage of dead is 1.4%. 

More than 330000 people die while about 13000000 wounded and displaced since the beginning of Syrian revolution - Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

If lower numbers are more accurate, then the comparison pales even further. I will leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions about what this says about the fracas between Abe Lincoln and Jeff Davis.

Leaving behind the most famous civil war of the 19th century, let us move to the most romanticized civil war of the 20th: The Spanish Civil War.

In 1936, the population of Spain was roughly 24 Million, almost the same number of Syrians in 2011.

The population, like Syria, was high radicalized and split into two camps. The secularist, socialist left (The Republicans), vs. a peasant population motivated by the army with the support of right wing clerics (The Nationalists) who wanted to turn the clock back on history.

Of course, the reality was more nuanced.  The Republicans ran the gamut from middle of the road capitalists, to Basque separatists, to socialists, to communists, to outright radical anarcho-syndicalists in Catalonia who fought against everyone.

The Nationalists ran from the right wing, to monarchists, to Carlists, to fascists, and were eventually subsumed, by military decree, to allegiance to General Franco.

To be sure, the Nationalists were incompetent. With the army on their side, they should have had an easy victory in under a month; but were countered by spontaneous popular uprisings to defend the Republic.

What destroyed the Republican cause, however, was their total inability to unite. Franco managed to unite the competing factions in his cause, while the Republicans spent a good amount of time shooting each other.

Rough estimates are 500,000 dead in just under three years. While not as many as the American Civil War, the Spanish slaughter was accomplished in less time and still vastly exceeds the Syrian numbers. By percentage, the Spanish Civil War dead were approximately 2.1% of the population.

The Chinese Civil War, combining both its stages had a toll of 9 million dead or roughly 1.4% of the population.

The Irish Rebellion of 1641 and later Confederation of the 1640s -- which was connected to the Scottish and English Civil Wars -- led to at least 13% dead in Ireland.  The number may be more than twice as high, depending on whose numbers are taken.

World War I, if seen as a European Civil War, which it was, had 17 million dead or roughly 4% of Europe.

So, from a historical viewpoint, the present Syrian Civil War, while brutal, is not up to snuff as exceptional.  In fact, up to now, it has been rather tame.

Assessing that fact, the world can now react rationally.

America, and NATO, goofed when we sought to get rid of Assad and his Alawite elite ruling class.  I remember telling all my friends in 2011 that evil though Assad was, he was the least evil of the possibilities. Few could foresee him lasting this long at that time, but those who knew history knew that Assad had no other choice. Surrender was not an option.
The Alawites are considered pagans by the Sunni. They are not even afforded the dhimmi status given to Christians and Jews. They have been savagely abused over the centuries.

Ibn Taymiyyah, a renowned 13th and 14th century Islamic scholar, issued a fatwa against Alawites, declaring them “greater infidels than Christians, Jews or idolaters,” and calling for a holy war against them.  Alawites faced systemic abuse and repression that continued until the end of the Ottoman empire. - PBS

The Sunnis cannot stand to be ruled over by people lower than dhimmis. The Alawites know that to surrender means genocide. The Alawites will go down like the Nazis in Berlin in 1945. They have no other choice.

Oddly, the Alawite religion has a mix of Christianity in it, making them friendly with Christians, another victimized group. The Alawites ruthlessly enforced a secularity in a part of the world that revolts against it. As bizarre as it seems, Syria had these Western values. Anyone with half a brain could have foreseen that the way to handle the situation was to offer Assad a hand in exchange for breaking relations with Iran and Hezb’allah.  In 2011, that might have worked.

No longer.

The US screwed up in Syria. If some other nations are foolish enough to butt in, then let them. The Mideast will swallow up any and all do-gooders.

The only option now for the West and civilization is to stay out of it and let them kill each other. 

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who is not Jewish, Latin, nor Arab. He runs a website,, where he discusses the subculture of Arabs in Latin America. He wishes his Spanish were better.