How Many Americans Died in World Wars, Vietnam, 9/11 After Joe Biden's COVID Death Claim

President Joe Biden has repeatedly compared the U.S. COVID death toll to casualties sustained by Americans in multiple wars.

In addresses since entering the White House in January, Biden has likened the nation's vaccine rollout to a "wartime effort," and compared the number of people who have died from the virus to the tragic number of fatalities from historic conflicts.

While the claim may be a talking point designed to show the sheer scale of the tragedy, the math has been criticized for not adding up.

The latest version of the statistics came on Thursday during President Biden's national address on the first anniversary of the pandemic-related lockdown. He revealed he had directed states to make all adults eligible to be vaccinated no later than May 1.

In his speech from the White House, Biden listed a trio of wars he had cited previously but, unlike prior examples, added the death toll from the 9/11 terror attack.

The president said: "I carry a card in my pocket with the number of Americans who have died from COVID to date... As of now, the total deaths in America: 527,726. That's more deaths than in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and 9/11 combined."

There are two main resources when totaling American deaths during conflict, published by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Congressional Research Service.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, a total of 392,393 battle deaths were recorded for the three named wars: World War I, World War II and Vietnam War.

A total of 2,977 people died in the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, bringing the combined total to 395,370 deaths, suggesting Biden's statement was accurate.

  • World War I: 53,402
  • World War II: 291,557
  • Vietnam War: 47,434
  • 9/11: 2,977

However, adding the military service deaths that were recorded as taking place outside of combat, the death toll from the three cited wars was more than 600,000. This would be higher than the number of people who have died from coronavirus disease.

That larger number is because the Veterans Affairs department data lists an additional 32,000 deaths that were in-service but not in-theatre for the Vietnam War.

As noted by the Congressional Research Service dataset, service deaths for the three wars combined—including fatalities not directly from battle—totals to 580,135. Adding 9/11 terror attack deaths brings the total to 583,112—more than COVID deaths.

  • World War I: 116,516
  • World War II: 405,399
  • Vietnam: 58,220
  • 9/11: 2,977

After fact checking the war-time statistics last month, a White House spokesperson told The Washington Post that Biden had been referring to in-combat deaths. The president did not specifically make that point during his address to the nation this week.

The Post reported at the time that over half of deaths during World War I were not in battle, partly because the 1918 flu pandemic claimed a lot of military lives.

If battle deaths remains the methodology, it is unclear why the 9/11 terrorist attack was included in the numbers. The White House has been contacted for comment.

There are multiple examples of Biden referencing "wartime" language in recent weeks.

On January 20, 2021, during his inaugural address, he said: "A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country. It's taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II." At the time, the U.S. COVID death toll was just over 400,000.

On January 26, he called vaccine rollout plans a wartime effort, adding: "People ask, "wartime?" I say, 'Yeah, more than 400,000 Americans have already died.

He continued: "I think it's four hundred eleven or twelve [thousand] have died in one year of this pandemic—more than all the people who died in all of—Americans who died in World War II. This is a wartime undertaking; it's not hyperbole."

When the U.S. death toll surpassed 500,000 on February 22, Biden said: "We mark a... heartbreaking milestone: 500,071 dead. That's more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined. That's more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth."

Earlier in March, Biden repeatedly referenced historic wars when announcing how companies were working together to boost vaccine manufacturing.

"Today, we're seeing the same type of collaboration when it comes to getting this virus under control. I said we ought to treat this like a war," the president said.

President Joe Biden address to the nation
President Joe Biden delivers a primetime address to the nation from the East Room of the White House March 11, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden gave the address to mark the one-year anniversary of the shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but was his death comparison accurate? Alex Wong/Getty Images

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