On-the-Cuff Calculations

I was interested to read that one reason that Mr. Bush’s War has taken relatively few mortalities in the U.S. Armed Forces involved the significant improvements in military medical treatment. If what Dr. Blimes reports is sound, the ratio of injuries to deaths in the Iraq War reaches 16:1 (cut to 8:1 if one only counts combat injuries, as the Pentagon would prefer that Blimes and others do). By way of comparison, the story in Inside Higher Ed sets the ratio for Vietnam at 2.8:1 and for World War II at 1.6:1.

So let’s do some rough-and-ready figuring. Last time I checked, the Pentagon has acknowledged 3,072 U.S. military deaths. During the same time, the Pentagon acknowledges 22,834 soldiers wounded; under the Vietnam standard for wounds-to-deaths ratio, that would correspond to 8,155 combat deaths, more than five thousand more than have actually died. That’s using a pretty narrow accounting of wounds and deaths, too.

To the extent that news reporting foregrounds U.S. military combat deaths only as a measure of the mortal costs of Bush’s War, tghey actually attenuate the war’s unpopularity. If we heard more about what we might call Vietnam-equivalent deaths (8,155 and counting) or — to avoid relying on hypotheticals — the actual numbers of seriously wounded soldiers, and the effect of their wounds on families, how popular would we estimate the plan to escalate the war to be?

Mark says:

Another statistic I’d like to hear more about is mental and emotional injuries. It can be easier to come back and hold down a civilian job when you’ve lost an arm than it is if you’re having trouble reentering society because of mental trauma.

Without wanting to calibrate the relative scales of suffering, I’d second your interest in the psychological/spiritual casualties of the war. NPr has been covering this recently, reporting on Pentagon officials’ apparent callousness toward soldiers with mental illness.

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