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The stark calculus of war

Last night, I got into a discussion with a liberal talk-show host about the war in Iraq. That conversation provided enough grist for several postings, but I'm going to focus on one point he made -- and one a lot of opponents of the war have been making this weekend, as we note the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

The big theme yesterday was "over 100,000 Iraqis and 1,500 Americans killed." Slate magazine already did such a thorough debunking of that first number here that anything else I could add would be utterly redundant. Instead, I'm going to look at that second number.

Before I begin, however, I'm going to say something that is obvious to regular Wizbang readers, but might head off the cherry-picking of this piece by critics. A single death of an American is a tragedy, and over 1500 is a tragedy writ large. Every single death is a terrible price to pay, and I grieve with and honor the families of those whose loved ones have paid that price.

But let's step back for a moment and look at the big picture. Over 1500 Americans killed in two years. Let's call it 1536 for convenience, for a bit of mathematical simplicity.

Breaking that number down, it works out just a fraction over 2.1 per day, or 64 deaths each month. How does that compare to previous conflicts the United States has been involved in?

Thanks to the work of Al Nofi of the United States Civil War Center, posted here, we see the cost of each of the major wars in United States history. The lowest deaths per month average was during the Revolutionary War, where we lost 55 per month. The highest was in the Korean War, when soldiers died at the rate of 6,639 per month. (Correction: World War II had the 6,639 figure. Thanks to reader Mr. Hawaii for pointing that out. And I agree -- charts with lines, especially really, really wide ones that go off my monitor, are better.) And during the Civil War, when every soldier killed was an American, the combined Union and Confederate losses were 3,846 per month.

The Iraq war is a very close second in the lowest. And the average of all 13 conflicts (the 12 cited by Nofi and the Iraq war) is 1,470 per month.

Yes, the war in Iraq is brutal. And yes, every death is a tragedy. But we must not let that detract from the inescapable fact that it is a war we are winning, and winning decisively. The tactics of our enemies are the tactics of desperation, much like the kamikaze pilots of World War II Japan. And wars are most often the bloodiest and most horrifying nearest the end.

We are in the endgame of the war in Iraq, and we must not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

J.


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Comments (17)

Good post, Jay. I'd like to... (Below threshold)

Good post, Jay. I'd like to add that death by "friendly fire" is down as well.

See here and here.

The people who go on and on... (Below threshold)
Julie:

The people who go on and on about every death a tragedy are the people who have encouraged our enemies to continue to resist. It should be a tragedy for them because as far as Im concerned, they are responsible for those deaths.

Jay, a good point. I might ... (Below threshold)

Jay, a good point. I might add that of the 1536, not all were combat deaths by enemy contact. Many, I don't have the number handy were from accidents and Humvee rollovers, helo crashes due to mechanical failure etc. I would be interested to see it broken down into those categories. I remember one month the number killed in the entire country was 36 and that same month the murders in Detroit were also 35-36.

Some years we have more tha... (Below threshold)
Julie:

Some years we have more than a thousand murders in LA county alone.

It is an old cliche but sti... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

It is an old cliche but still the truth-Freedom isn't free, and sometimes it seems like the critics on the left seem to think that it is.

Not that I want to sound li... (Below threshold)

Not that I want to sound like a nit-picky smart ass but...
ok, that's a lie.

Anyway, the highest deaths per month was WW2 with 6,639 per month, Korea had 909 per month. And yes, I like charts with lines too.

Wanna really argue "statist... (Below threshold)
Faith+1:

Wanna really argue "statistics"? Look up the monthly death rates of LA, New York, Detroit, Chicago and DC.

<a href="http://www.dior.wh... (Below threshold)
JJ:

http://www.dior.whs.mil/mmid/casualty/Death_Rates.pdf

During my three years in the army, back in the early 80s, more than 7,000 servicemen died.

During peacetime.

There was no public outcry, no protests, nothing.

Somebody did the math regar... (Below threshold)
Richard Aubrey:

Somebody did the math regarding Desert Storm and came to the conclusion we had a negative casualty rate. That is, there were fewer Americans killed in Desert Storm than among a similar number of US soldiers in the US in the same amount of time.
It looks as if that is the case here, as well. Some guys have been deployed twice, some units longer than others. That would make it difficult to define the problem, but in two years plus, we have a casualty rate of about one percent of the deployed force. Half a percent a year.

JJ, they protest because it... (Below threshold)

JJ, they protest because it is politically expedient to do so, not only that, it is "hip". Protesting Bush and his Administration is the "hip" thing to do, or didn't you read the newspapers?

One question that comes to ... (Below threshold)
Chris Cardiff:

One question that comes to mind is: how do we define the end of the Iraq War? The other conflicts were against nation-states where it was easy to decide when the war was over. I expect the casualty rate to continue to decline, which will bring the average down further. The point is, the current number for the Iraq War is not final and if the current trend continues, is likely to be lower.

Statistics for the Afghan phase would be worth looking at also.

Iraq isn't really that diff... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

Iraq isn't really that difficult.

The war/peacekeeping phase is over, when Iraq has a stable government, and a force capable of protecting its own borders.

I think anyone who thinks this should be over yesterday or in a year, probably isn't being very realistic. Although I definitely think that we are hitting a point where we can reduce troop size.

The war on terror is harder-because we don't actually fight an enemy that can/will formally surrender. I figure in the end it is going to be a lot like the cold war-very long, with small battles here and there, and victory, when the islamofascists are so marginalized that they are unable to effectively operate.

I think the Bush doctrine is 100% right that the best way to end islamofascism is to bring real democracy to the region(s) that produce the terrorists.

Tom H:<a href="http:... (Below threshold)

Tom H:
The Command Post has a link to a pdf report that gives a rough breakdown of all US fatalities by cause. It also gives a vast amount of other data about Iraq, from Primary School enrollments to results of various polls. It also gives the sources for all this data.

Essential reading for people more intrested in facts than opinions - thus it's unlikely to be mentioned in MSM, alas, even though there's plenty in it to support their prejudices.

Just Me, no, the WAR is ove... (Below threshold)

Just Me, no, the WAR is over. Right now we're there keeping the peace, if you don't agree, then you also disagree that UN peacekeepers also keep the peace (well that opens up another can of worms).

Jay:Yes, it now look... (Below threshold)
Ira Cushing:

Jay:
Yes, it now looks like the final outcome will be good for both Iraq and America. But let me echo your closing point: it's not too late to lose this. That's what happened in Vietnam. After U.S. ground forces were withdrawn and ARVN was holding its own against the North, the funding rug was pulled out by a U.S. Congress dominated by those who accepted a moral equivalency, or worse, between our allies and their enemies.

Of course the statistics ar... (Below threshold)
Kin:

Of course the statistics are absolute numbers. To get an acurate picture you'd have to compare the number of soldiers in theatre before making a solid conclusion.

Julie wrote: "The people wh... (Below threshold)
Jabba the Tutt:

Julie wrote: "The people who go on and on about every death a tragedy are the people who have encouraged our enemies to continue to resist."

Bingo! This is exactly how Bin Laden thought. American's can't take casualties, all I have to do is kill enough and they'll surrender. Bin Laden has no compunction about killing people. He's just sending infidels to hell. What's the problem?




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