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Iraq Casualties

I heard a news report, well actually an interview during a news report, on NPR the other day that mentioned the vast improvement in medical technology and response time in Iraq as compared to past wars. This made me wonder if in order to compare the success/failure in Iraq to, say, Vietnam one would be well advised to look at the number of injured rather than the number of dead.

First, let’s look at the death tallies as a function of months to see how the two wars compare. (The source of my Vietnam numbers and Iraq numbers. Iraq numbers are as of December, 2004.)

58,168 dead over 144 months = 404 dead/month

1346 dead over 20 months = 67 dead/month

This is essentially the sum of the news we, the American public, see. From this information we can glean, the war in Vietnam was approximately 6 times more deadly than the current war in Iraq. Indeed, that statement is correct. Now let’s look at the casualty (dead + wounded) numbers.

211,471 casualties over 144 months = 1469 casualties/month

11,387 casualties over 20 months = 569 casualties/month

The chances of getting killed or injured in Iraq are higher than I would have suspected. Granted, the same fate in Vietnam was just over 2.5 times more likely. Yet suddenly it doesn’t seem all that unrealistic for the monthly casualty numbers in Iraq to rise to the same level as Vietnam.

So what does this all mean? To me it seems like a lot of the war backers brush the violence off by pointing to the relative lack of deaths. Aren’t we experiencing quite a bit of death given the soldiers, for the most part, aren’t engaged in actual combat? Doesn’t it seem like we should at least be comparing red apples to green apples when judging the success of our activities in Iraq? Shouldn’t we be comparing casualties to casualties?

Deaths are obviously still the most important aspect of war tolls. How many casualties weigh the same as a death? 2? 10? Don’t ask me.

Perhaps the American public’s opinion of this war would not change based on an in-depth look at the casualty numbers, but wouldn’t you expect the media to at least present the information? Isn’t this exactly the role that Jon Stewart and others have been claiming the media must take in a Democracy? I would doubt that the administration’s ideas would change based on any of this information. Of course, I’m assuming they would read the information if it were given to them.

Would an increase in troop levels, as many critics are recommending, effect the number of casualties? Positively or negatively? Vietnam’s troop levels ranged from 156,000 to 536,000 during the major conflict.

Are we also ignoring a major difference in the quality of forces in Iraq (well trained and voluntary) versus Vietnam (lots of draftees) when analyzing the success of this conflict?

I’m having trouble arriving at a thesis statement on this one. At the very least it seems it is a critique on the media. Shouldn’t they have analyzed this to death by now? Shouldn’t the liberal portion of the media be harping on it with their own kooky reasoning and shouldn’t the conservative media be analyzing it to undermine the data’s value? At least that is something I could almost respect.

I have to ask, what are your thoughts on these numbers? Please comment.