Math Is Our Friend

I may be numerically challenged, but I can read a table. A rightie blogger claimed,

Did you know that more members of the military were killed in Jimmy Carter’s last year in the White House than in any of the years we’ve been fighting in Iraq? Think about that. In the peaceful year of 1980, 2,392 servicemen died while on duty defending our country. In 2003, the start of the Iraq War, only 1,228 servicemen and women died. In 2004, the number was 1,874, it went up to 1,942 in 2005, and it dropped to 1,858 in 2006.

WTF? You say. The blogger is pulling these numbers from page 10, Table 5, of this PDF document. In 1980, out of a total of 2,159,630 persons in the military (active and reserve), 2,392 died. In 2006, out of a total of 1,664,014 persons in the military, 1,858 died.

I bet you see where this post is going already.

As a commenter helpfully pointed out, the military was 50 percent bigger in 1980 than it is now. In 1980, the commenter calculated, there were 1.17 deaths per 1000 soldiers. By 2000, the fatality rate had dropped to 0.55 per 1000 soldiers. We can see from Table 5 on page 11 of the same document that a reduction in the rate of accidents lowered the overall fatality rate. In 2006, however, there were 1.35 deaths per 1000 soldiers.

We can also see that in 1980 there were zero deaths from hostile action and one from a terrorist attack. I don’t know what happened to the one. In 2006, there were 753 deaths from hostile action and 238 deaths pending determination of cause.

Also note that the tables don’t say if the military personnel were on duty or on leave or enjoying free time when they died.

Back to the rightie blogger:

In fact, only during the Clinton years of 1996 into the Bush years of 2001 and 2002, during a period of time when the Clinton policy of refusing to defend our national interest was in place, do we see the number of military deaths fall below 1000 annually.

During the 1980’s, when we aggressively defended the peace against the Soviets, the number of military deaths routinely topped 2000, with a high in 1983, the year of the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, topping out at 2,465.

The number of active-duty military personnel dropped quite a bit in the 1990s. It went from 2,046,806 in 1990 to 1,367,838 in 1999. The number of selected reserve troops also decreased in the 1990s, although the number of national guard remained steady. Fewer troops, fewer deaths.

During the entire decade of the 1980s, a total of 81 troops died in hostile action and 294 died in terrorist attacks (263 in 1983). The rest died of accidents, illness, and homicides.

But let’s go back to the key point, more members of the military died in 1980, while Jimmy Carter was in the White House abdicating our responsibilities around the world, than in any one of the years we’ve been in Iraq.

The moral of the story is that peace is dangerous.

I’d say the moral is that somebody is dumb as a bag of hammers.

Update: Somebody at the Weekly Standard can’t read tables, either.

11 thoughts on “Math Is Our Friend

  1. What’s also being ignored is the huge advances in military medicine. I’ve been told that if military medicine was at the same level of development as it was during Vietnam, the number of Iraq deaths would be higher than those from Vietnam. What’s changed is that now injured personnel almost always survive. The numbers of wounded from Iraq never seem to get reported, but I gather they’re enormous. What’s also overlooked is that many of the wounded suffer grievous, life-changing injuries, e.g. lost limbs and head injuries.

  2. Maha,
    Great job picking those tables apart. Another outstanding example of how some folks don’t go beyond the surface in trying to understand things. Hopefully, a link on my place will send some readers over here for a Maha-education!

  3. Playing little mind games to avoid looking at the truth of what’s happening in Iraq is always fun. I’ve always found it interesting that more soldiers died of spear wounds in the Peloponnesian wars than American troops are dying from spear wounds in Iraq. It must be the advances battlefield medical treatment, or General Betrayus’ extremely effective tactics in counter-insurgencies.

    Here’s a little math quiz for any eager righties to try and solve. It’s a tricky one, so think carefully before you answer.

    How many 500 lbs bombs have to be dropped on Iraq to equal the 3 million tons of bombs that the Americans dropped in Cambodia?*

    * Trivial pursuit fact… The plain of Jars in Cambodia was the most heavily bombed geographical area in the history of the mankind. All paid for by American tax dollars.

  4. I’ve always found it interesting that more soldiers died of spear wounds in the Peloponnesian wars than American troops are dying from spear wounds in Iraq.

    I’m surprised the White House hasn’t pointed that out.

  5. What’s also being ignored is the huge advances in military medicine.

    I don’t think that’s a good point. Namely because the comparison has been skewed by a verbal slight of hand in introducing combat deaths in “Iraq” to taint the observation. The equation changes its dynamic of all things being equal with the statement …fighting in Iraq To credit advances in military medicine is to be drawn into a false proposition designed to deceive and minimize the blunder that Bush has committed in Iraq.
    It can be seen on it’s face that it’s just more rightie bullshit, and doesn’t deserve a respectful consideration.

  6. While this is all fine and good, the other day I heard on NPR that the number of these mercenaries in Iraq is equal to the number of troops killed! We have had several thousand international troops killed there and we don’t even know it! Where do we live?

  7. I’m not sure what year Rob died. Rob was in the Air Force, stationed in either NM or AZ, was the only son of the couple that introduced me to my wife and he died while riding his motorcycle off base and off duty.

    And this “CRS Report for Congress” has what relevance?

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