Non-combat mortality info sought
June 27, 2005 8:34 AM   Subscribe

The figure of 1700 Americans killed in Iraq is saddening and unnecessary. We still don't know what they died for. My question, which may sound callous, is: What are the mortality rates for a comparable group of regular American citizens? In other words, if you take 150,000 people, mostly male, between the ages of eighteen and (say) forty, how many of them will die during a two and half year period? I am not attempting to minimize the casualties here, rather I am trying to argue the case against the war in the most conservative and factual way. Thank for any insights anyone can give me on this.
posted by thayerg to Law & Government (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Keep in mind that I don't believe those "killed" figures include auto accidents in Iraq, or those who are wounded and brought back to the states to later die. There's a lot of number pushing going around, it'd be hard to get an accurate comparison.

Keep in mind that the group in Iraq is also going to be healthier and in better shape (as army recruiting weeds out those with say, heart defects).
posted by geoff. at 8:41 AM on June 27, 2005

The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics might have your answer, but I don't have time to look further now.

Another factor to pay attention to is that U.S. soldiers in Iraq are getting pretty much the best battlefield medical attention ever. So there are a lot of soldiers surviving with severe brain injuries that would have been dead in any other war.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:51 AM on June 27, 2005

According to the CDC, in 2003 (preliminary data, most recent released), the male death rate between 15-24 was 114.4, 25-34 was 139.5, and 35.44 was 252.3 (all per 100k of population).

Taking half of the first number, and half of the last number, a "blended average" would be 322.75. Multiply that by 1.5 for the numbers we're talking about, and multiply by 2.5 for the period of time, and you get 1210 (rounding down, lucky bastard).

So, the war has caused 1.5 times more deaths within the male demographic than non-war would, and you still have lots of non-war deaths to worry about.
posted by lowlife at 8:51 AM on June 27, 2005

oh, and of course those numbers above are completely wrong, because all I did was add the things together.

Trying again, just average all the mortailty rates together as a mean value: 168.67. Multiply by 1.5 and 2.5, get 632 deaths.

Sucks to be in a war.
posted by lowlife at 8:59 AM on June 27, 2005

Amputation Rate for US Troops Twice That of Past Wars
Boston Globe
December 9, 2004

Long-Term Care a Challenge For Soldiers
Chicago Sun-Times
December 5, 2004
In World War II, for every soldier killed in combat, there were three wounded on the battlefield, according to historians with the U.S. Army Medical Command. In Korea, the ratio of killed-to-wounded was one to four. The ratio was the same for Vietnam. In Iraq, the ratio is one to 12.

Brain injuries high among Iraq casualties
Army News Service
November 24, 2003

geoff. makes a good point about what the Pentagon considers to be a "combat related death". I posted some links that address that issue.
posted by mlis at 9:04 AM on June 27, 2005

I've heard this argument several times - most notably from Rush Limbaugh and other conservative pundits. The thinking is that people die all the time; from lawnmower mishaps, auto accidents or an undiagnosed heart condition. Reporting casualties from a war shouldn't be any more shocking than hearing of how many people died on the highway over a given period of time.

The fundamental and often overlooked crux of the issue, however, is that the young people killed in Iraq died after being sent overseas to fight for an unclear cause under false pretenses. They did not die due carelessness, negligence or poor health, they died because they were ordered into a situation they shouldn't have been in.
posted by aladfar at 9:14 AM on June 27, 2005

For another perspective, 1,842 people were murdered in California in 2001-2002. If there are 35,000,000 California residents, than those 150,000 in Iraq would be approximately 233 times more likely to be a victim of homicide... or something like that.
posted by glibhamdreck at 9:55 AM on June 27, 2005

"We still don't know what they died for."

I do. They died to make the world safer - literally. And it will be, one day, thanks in no small part to their service.
posted by davidmsc at 10:16 AM on June 27, 2005

Here's a very useful page on casualty statistics, from the DOD.

The 1700+ number does include auto accidents (aka non-hostile deaths).

The linked page also has the stats for years prior to 2002, so you can see the "normal" number of deaths for the military. About 400 soldiers die in accidents each year, and there are other causes as well.
posted by smackfu at 10:21 AM on June 27, 2005

A related ask me-fi discussed the number of Iraqi dead. I made this point there, and I'll make it again -- counting the number of dead in any war assumes that in your discussion, your ultimate value is life. In war, that sometimes ceases to be true -- among many of its various definitions, war is astate of society where life is less important than a larger societal purpose, be it freedom or facism or socialism or... eating eggs from the thin end as opposed to the thick end. Many people are willing to die for a cause or a country.

Before everyone starts jumping straight down my gullet to rip out my entrails and pass them around (salmacis, I'm looking in your direction), I'm not advocating one side of the debate over the other. I'm just pointing out that this argument assumes that life is the ultimate value. For those you're arguing with, they probably believe that life *isn't* the ultimate value, but rather 'Iraqi Freedom' is more important. [AGAIN, salmacis et al, 'Iraqi Freedom' is in quotes so put down the whip.]
posted by incessant at 10:42 AM on June 27, 2005

I do. They died to make the world safer - literally. And it will be, one day, thanks in no small part to their service.

Aww. You believe that.
posted by xmutex at 10:43 AM on June 27, 2005

what aladfar said. and as for:
I do. They died to make the world safer - literally. And it will be, one day, thanks in no small part to their service

Respectfully I disagree in the strongest possible terms.

If it happens that "the world" is somehoe rendered "safer" thanks to this conflict (and I see no evidence that this is a foregone conclusion, or certainly that any of us are "safer" now than we would have been other than Saddam's immediate political enemies), it will indeed be thanks to their service, but not thanks to the lying, cynical chickenhawks who sent them to die in a war that has nothing at all to do with making the world safer and everything to do with securing their own grip on power through all the distortions of liberty war produces. And more and more people are waking up to that, including plenty of military personnel and their families.

Our administration is using medical doctors to torture illegally held detainees more effectively. Dick Durbin called this exactly what it is and should never have apologized.

I would never disparage the bravery of our soldiers. But I disdain the cowardice, brutality, and disingenuousness of their civilian commanders. We owe it to our military to use them in just and well-planned wars only. Once again, we've failed them miserably. And we've created a new university for terrorists, lost the support of the world community, and stiffened the resolve (while not obviously weakening the infrastructure) of our enemies. We've damn near guaranteed that Iraq's future involves either civil war or a new authoritarian regime (possibly an Islamist one) or, most likely, both. We've made a mess we can't clean up. Colin Powell's "pottery barn rule" applies. And we are spending vast quantities of national wealth that could have been used much more logically and efficiently to secure our own country against the kind of terrorism (9/11) Bush would have us believe is the justification for creating and fighting an Iraqi insurgency that didn't exist two years ago. Every time a torture photo or a report of abuse or a photo of a sobbing, blood-spattered child goes around the world, probably dozens are hardened into supporting, and some into participating in, a perpetual war with the United States. None of this was a surprise. Intelligent people in the military and on the right foresaw the catastrophe we have wrought. The decision to plunge ahead was purely political, not moral or strategic, and that is a crying shame if it is not treasonous.

The original question presupposes an analogy between the risks of ordinary life stateside and life in a brutal combat zone for each individual soldier who dies. It's not how many might have died under some circumstance or other were we not in Iraq. It's whether these same *particular* individuals would have died, violently and away from their families, had Bush not lied us into a quagmire from which there is no exit that preserves American honor. It was wrong in Vietnam. It's wrong now.

And don't forget that war traumatizes and often destroys those who live as well as those who die. It costs our economy and our culture the contributions of our bravest and often brightest and most principled young people for years on end if not forever. It begins new cycles of tragedy and violence that will take generations to dissolve. If you love the troops, ask why an administration full of combat-dodging prissies has decimated the VA care system, just for a start. We haven't even begun to count the cost of this travesty of an illegal war.

posted by realcountrymusic at 10:46 AM on June 27, 2005

Now realcountrymusic has it right -- the argument isn't whether more people died, but rather did they die for the right reason. It's a bitch, because the argument that realcountrymusic is making (and davidmsc is on the other side of) is WAY more nuanced and hard to prove and it all comes down to the outcome of the war -- will it be good for the world or bad for the world? Will it be good for the US or bad for the US? The argument that fewer people would've died had there been no war seems to be a foregone conclusion. The question of the validity of their deaths is an argument with some teeth.
posted by incessant at 10:59 AM on June 27, 2005

Please also consider that these aren't just people 18-24, these are mostly men in the best shape they will ever be in their life. That's got to count for something.

On the other hand, if you sent people over to a desert and had them run around in 110 degree weather, regardless of whether or not they'd be getting shot at, the death rate would probably increase.

Plus, they're apart from their friends and families. That should increase the death rate too, I guess.

Also, death rates in the military should be higher even in peacetime, due to training accidents, right?

I don't think you can arrive at an accurate number. In fact I think it's largely unimportant what the number is (you know this already) because the math on human life is tricky.. if one person dies, that's as sad as two people dying, to me. I am not an actuary (IANAA) though.
posted by Hildago at 11:07 AM on June 27, 2005

Please also consider that these aren't just people 18-24, these are mostly men in the best shape they will ever be in their life.

In Iraq War, Death Also Comes To Soldiers in Autumn of Life.
New York Times
July 18, 2004

By the thousands, soldiers 50 and older are being deployed.
New Jersey Star-Ledger
October 17, 2004
posted by mlis at 11:34 AM on June 27, 2005

They did not die due carelessness, negligence or poor health, they died because they were ordered into a situation they shouldn't have been in.

They also volunteered to join the military as a job and get paid to do it, knowing full well they would be ordered to do many thing without their own approval. This little point seems to constantly be ignored, perhaps because it doesn't fit into your argument.

Offtopic, I really hope this is simply a case of a newbie making a mistake, but this questions could have easily been asked without "The figure of 1700 Americans killed in Iraq is saddening and unnecessary. We still don't know what they died for".

Self editorializing has now sadly become a part of the blue, but askme is about asking question and getting answers, not giving your opinion as if fact. I hope matt doesn't allow this to continue. Instead of answering the question it simply gives members like realcountrymusic another forum to preach, which is not the purpose of askme.
posted by justgary at 12:38 PM on June 27, 2005

I do. They died to make the world safer - literally. And it will be, one day, thanks in no small part to their service.

Would you personally rather be in Iraq right this instant, or 4 years ago? What about anywhere in the region?

Iraq and surrounding area is part of the world. They are less safe now (for you). Most of the rest of the world is not terribly affected by the war directly in terms of safeness (for you). no change in safeness.

Thus: Net drop in safeness.

Sorry for going off-topic.
posted by clord at 12:41 PM on June 27, 2005

What justgary said. This was a good question formulated in a terrible way. Can we please keep our fucking political opinions out of AskMeFi? Thank you.
posted by languagehat at 12:48 PM on June 27, 2005

remember that people in the armed forces are typically from poorer backgrounds than the average and so would have higher mortality rates than the average.

it might be easier to make the comparison more direct - how does the death rate compare to soldiers who are not on active service? since presumably that's what "combat related death" means, to a rough approximation, it seems that the numbers are already corrected.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:48 PM on June 27, 2005

Politics and ideology aside, the comparison the OP is trying to do is not appropriate. All-causes US population death rates are too high to be used as a 'control' rate for US servicemen and women, because the military selected those servicemen and women for good health. The US population includes many in that age range who would not in fact be healthy enough to join the military, and - no surprise here - those particular unhealthy folks are a lot more likely to die in that age range.

Lowlife's averaging of death rates in different age ranges is statistically invalid, by the way, even in his second post where he got the math right. The proper way to do this is called 'age-adjustment' and takes into account the age structure of the population in question.

Soapbox: those torturers in Iraq aren't acting as medical doctors. They're torturers who happen to have medical training. When they're not acting in ways that are beneficial and not harmful to their clients, they aren't following the Hippocratic Oath, and they're not 'doctors' as you or I would use the word.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:27 PM on June 27, 2005

In other words, if you take 150,000 people, mostly male, between the ages of eighteen and (say) forty, how many of them will die during a two and half year period?

Well, using CDC data for 2002, it appears that 111,382 males from ages 14-44 died that year. Numbers for 2001 are similar. The census estimates there were 63,323,718 men in that age range, giving a death rate of about 176 per 100,000 population. (Close to lowlife's figure above).

With the figures you have for Iraq, which we'll call 680 deaths a year for 150,000 people, you get 453 deaths per 100,000, which is ~2.5 times higher than the "just hanging out in the US" rate for men 14-44 in 2002.

Using smackfu's link above, in 2002 the death rate in the military was 64.3 per 100k. So Iraq operation is about 7 times as dangerous as military service was in 2002.
posted by fleacircus at 1:27 PM on June 27, 2005

ikkyu2, I wasn't trying to be "right" (even after I realized that I'd completely screwed up the first time around). I was just doing some quick guesses at a "pen-on-napkin" level of quality.

fleacircus has more interesting things to say about it all than me, and I'm not saying that because he thinks I was close! :)
posted by lowlife at 1:35 PM on June 27, 2005

The question of what's appropriate for AskMe seems less clear cut to me. There is no way a question about the factual basis of a common rhetorical tactic for minimizing the significance of war casualties in a conflict that has us all deeply divided and angry at each other is not going to invoke answers that address the premises of the question and the validity of any particular answer thereto. So if AskMe is only "how do I fix my computer/find a boyfriend/hack my friend's server" etc., then a FPP about one of the hottest, saddest, most divisive issues to face our nation in a generation or two is inappropriate.

You don't like my preaching, don't read it.
posted by realcountrymusic at 1:57 PM on June 27, 2005

Not only did I read it, I flagged it. The question of appropriateness may be "less clear cut" to you, but the guidelines are quite clear, and you violated them. Stop it. Just because the poster asked a badly worded question doesn't give you the right to spew your lengthy editorials all over the green.
posted by languagehat at 2:51 PM on June 27, 2005


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found that the medical system failed to maintain internment cards with medical information necessary to protect the detainees' health as required by the Geneva Convention; this reportedly was due to a policy of not officially processing (ie, recording their presence in the prison) new detainees. .

Death certificates of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq were falsified or their release or completion was delayed for months. Medical investigators [including medical doctors] either failed to investigate unexpected deaths of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan or performed cursory evaluations and physicians routinely attributed detainee deaths on death certificates to heart attacks, heat stroke, or natural causes without noting the unnatural aetiology of the death. . .

Army officials stated that a physician and a psychiatrist helped design, approve, and monitor interrogations at Abu Ghraib. This echoes the Secretary of Defense's 2003 memo ordering interrogators to ensure that detainees are "medically and operationally evaluated as suitable" for interrogation plans. In one example of a compromised medically monitored interrogation, a detainee collapsed and was apparently unconscious after a beating, medical staff revived the detainee and left, and the abuse continued. There are isolated reports that medical personnel directly abused detainees. Two detainees' depositions describe an incident where a doctor allowed a medically untrained guard to suture a prisoner's lacertation from being beaten. . .

Abu Ghraib: its legacy for military medicine
The Lancet Medical Journal
August 2004

Read the whole thing.
posted by mlis at 3:14 PM on June 27, 2005

Thanks everyone. I do have a fucking political opinion and I articulated it here because simply posing the question without any context seemed to me to be callous in the extreme and disrespectful of the huge sacrifices made by our troops. I'd much sooner be accused of newbie fecklessness, thanks.

Not that it matters, but I've long been aware of what a thug Saddam was and initially I was pro invasion. Because of this I was very much out of step with my good liberal community. The discoveries of the mass graves vindicated my views I felt, although I notice they rarely figure in any current discussion of the war.

But we've blundered badly in Iraq. The figures I asked for (and thanks again for the responses) are an attempt to quantify this.
posted by thayerg at 3:16 PM on June 27, 2005

[I pulled the last few comments in this thread. I have copies of them if anyone wants them. If you need to belabor the phrasing of the question, please take it to metatalk or metachat.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:28 AM on June 28, 2005

Read the whole thing.

I can't bear to, it makes me cry.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:08 PM on June 28, 2005

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