In telling the stories of war, we have a natural inclination to focus on the action, the drama of the front lines. Heroes, villains, and violence unlike most people have ever seen has a unique way of grabbing at the human attention span, luring us in with via own aspirations of heroism, or our own deep seated fears regarding the villainy of the world. The thing is, while winning a war, or even a battle, requires leveraging the strength and heroism of these men of action … sometimes, what really turns the tide in an offensive isn’t the grit in a man’s teeth, but rather the math, devised weeks or months before, in a quiet office a half a world away.

Such was the unassuming story of Abraham Wald, who not only saved countless lives throughout World War II, but helped establish “survivorship bias” as an integral aspect of operational analysis both in a military setting and beyond.

Wald was born in Austria-Hungary (present day Romania) in 1902. By 1931, he had completed his PhD in mathematics, and despite possessing a gifted analytical mind, he was unable to secure a position at any of his home nation’s universities upon his return. The problem? It was 1931, and Wald was Jewish.

When the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938, Wald and his family fled to the United States where he was offered a position with the Cowles Research Commission in Economics. However, it wasn’t long before he found himself working for Uncle Sam, using his mathematical skills to help devise better strategies in the war against the same nation he had once fled: Germany.