Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Casualties 2

I was hoping to locate an op/ed piece I'd read a month ago on the topic of relative casualties, so I wouldn't have to do the math all over again. It was syndicated in the local StarTribune, but my late night search skills haven't surfaced the source.

Nevertheless, thanks to our open society, you can sample most of the relevant, up-to-date data yourself via the link to the DoD's Web site.

Today's ratio of killed in action versus wounded and unable to return to duty is about 1:5. That is, for every 1,000 combat deaths in Iraq, 5,000 are injured badly enough to be sent home for good. As of mid-November, another 4,000+ wounded were able to return to duty within 72 hours. (See my previous post.)

But there's one missing element in our calculation. What is the casualty rate (not the lethality rate) for the total number of exposed troops?

My now-missing op/ed piece noted that when you compare the total dead and wounded relative to the number of troops in the war zone, you get a more realistic estimate of how bad the situation really is. 6,000 dead or severely injured may be considered acceptable—at least in military terms—if the total force is half a million. That's a 1.2 percent rate. But let's assume Rumsfeld's lean military doctrine has thus far exposed more like 300,000 fighting forces in Iraq. (It's one number I don't have at my fingertips.) That's 2 percent casualties, compared to 2.29 for the entire course of Vietnam.

It just may be the wounded who will stir increased opposition to our current policy. Each dead soldier ceases to be an individual all too quickly, except for family and friends. The ranks of the wounded grow day after day, and each will be with us in body as well as spirit. What's the plan for getting them all home whole?


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