06 Sep

Occupation Casualties Primer, Damned Lies and Statistics

“One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.” Joseph Stalin


Statistics about non-economic matters can be manipulated as well. One of the most disturbing regards war casualties from Iraq. The government has a great incentive to downplay the number of Americans who have died in Iraq as to make the cost of the war look smaller and not surprisingly, they’ve taken full advantage of it.

The primary way they’ve done this is to disaggregate the figures. In other words, official war casualty statistics are given out in pieces, instead of a whole, to make the actual number of deaths look smaller than it really is.

First of all, we must note the total cost of the war to all involved. Our allies, or the “coalition of the willing,” has lost 318 troops in Iraq. (1) Much more distressing, however, is the number of Iraqis who have lost their lives. The official count varies, but according to the AP, the number is 110,600. (2) However, this is certainly too low, as keeping accurate records in the chaotic aftermath of the invasion has proven to be almost impossible. Survey results from the ORB Group concluded that over 1.3 million Iraqi’s had died, as a result of the war, by August 2007! (3)

That survey is controversial, but it corroborates a study by The Lancet that estimated there had been 654,865 deaths 14 months earlier, in June of 2006. (4) Regardless of the actual figure, it is disgustingly high. Most of these people were not terrorists, Ba’athists or insurgents; they were just normal Iraqis living under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. It’s certainly good he’s gone, but given Iraq had no WMD nor a connection to Al-Qaeda, the cost has proven to be unbearably high.

The official number of U.S. casualties is 4335. (5) Now, this is an accurate statistic, it represents the number of American soldiers who have died in Iraq since the war started. However, it is very misleading because soldiers are not the only one’s to have died and Iraq is not the only place they have died.

Let’s start with the location. George Bush repeatedly referred to Iraq as part of the “War on Terror.” If that is the case, then why aren’t we including the deaths in Afghanistan as part of the total? During World War II, the United States fought two separate enemies: Germany and Japan. Yet, it was considered a war against fascism and the total deaths from both theaters-about 250,000-were given as a whole. This is not the case with Afghanistan. So far, 802 American soldiers and a further 538 coalition troops have died there. (6) It was difficult to find estimates for the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, but the official numbers are in the tens of thousands. (7)

Barack Obama has thankfully dropped the term “War on Terror,” (how exactly do you launch a war on a tactic?), so perhaps separating the war casualties makes some sense now. However, his behavior has been extremely Bush-ian. His anti-war campaign rhetoric has given way to either dishonesty or cowardice, as he’s operating in Iraq under what amounts to the agreement Bush negotiated with Iraq prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki before he left office and Obama is actually increasing our military presence in Afghanistan.

The next major segment overlooked by the statistics is American contractors. The United States military has privatized much of its non-military operations, things it used to do itself. For example, soldiers used to handle food services, now that is contracted out to companies like Hallibfuneral-flag-childurton. The United States has had well over 100,000 contractors in Iraq at any given time since the wildly premature declaration of “Mission Accomplished.” So far, 1395 contractors have been killed in Iraq. Many of these would have been American soldiers in previous wars, but regardless, they’re still people. Furthermore, 331 journalists and 423 academics have died in Iraq as well (although many of these journalists and academics were not American citizens). (8)

When we combine the wars and add the contractors, (we’ll leave out the journalists and academics, since most weren’t American) we come to a total of 6532, over 50% higher than the official tally. Add in the journalists and academics and the total comes to 7281, almost 70% higher.

This still doesn’t represent the total human cost, unfortunately. While the Pentagon officially counts any soldier who dies from their wounds as a war casualty, regardless of when and where, this is hard to do in practice. If a soldier is wounded, comes home, has a brain hemorrhage and dies, did his injuries cause his death? In spite of the inherent difficulties in measuring this, it appears Pentagon tallies have been done sloppily or possibly dishonestly. In 2004, released a report that revealed that during the Vietnam War, the Department of Defense defined a war death as “all those occurring within the designated combat areas and those deaths occurring anywhere as the result or aftermath of an initial casualty occurring in a combat area.” (9) However, the current DOD Instructions (1300.18) are silent on this matter. The report continued by summing up the situation in Iraq as follows:

“It is somewhat difficult to imagine that nearly 15,000 people were sufficiently sick or injured to require evacuation from the theater, but that only ten of them subsequently succumbed to the condition that required their evacuation. Overall, the ratio between wounded to killed-in-action is running about ten to one – about 7,000 wounded in action with over 700 killed in action. The ratio of those evacuated due to combat wounds [over 1,500 as of 01 August 2004] to those who died subsequent to evacuation [eight reported], presents a ratio on the order of two-hundred to one, which is puzzling. It is also puzzling that over 4,000 were evacuated due to non-battle injuries, but only two subsequently died and that over 7,000 were evacuated due to disease, but that none of them died.” (10)

John Rutherford of NBC News asked the Pentagon why five specific deaths were not counted in the statistics, to which the Pentagon replied: “The Army has reviewed the deaths of these soldiers and determined that they did not die as the result of wounds suffered supporting OIF [Iraq] or OEF [Afghanistan].” Here’s the description of one of them, what do you think?

“Army Sgt. Gerald Cassidy of Indiana suffered brain injuries in a roadside bombing in Iraq in June 2006. He arrived at Fort Knox, Ky., with blinding headaches, memory and hearing loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder. He was found dead in his room on Sept. 21, 2007. He may have been unconscious for days before his body was discovered.” (11)

So far the official tally of wounded soldiers is 31,469 (although some estimates place it at over 100,000. (12) Many of their wounds are extremely serious, including some so severe that they are brain dead. These men are also NOT included in the death toll, despite their lives, for all intents and purposes, being over. (13) Many of the wounded who have fared better will still live the rest of their lives with brain damage, skin burns, amputated arms or legs, lost eyes or ears, as well as an assortment of other grotesque injuries. And many of those who don’t count as wounded still have to face the terrible psychological effects of combat.wife lying at grave

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study which found that while 5-9.4% of U.S. veterans had post traumatic stress disorder, (depending on the strictness of the definition), before deployment, 6.2-19.9% had PTSD after deployment; a difference of 10.5% under the broad definition of PTSD. (14) This has possibly led to a disturbingly large number of suicides among U.S. military veterans.

In 2007, CBS News investigated suicide among U.S. military veterans and determined that in 2005 alone, 6256 committed suicide! (15) The war has now been going for almost six and half years; if that number were held constant, (something we cannot assume), the total would now be over 40,000. Overall, the investigation showed the suicide rate for veterans, adjusted for age and gender, (young men are the most likely to commit suicide), was about twice as high as for non-veterans. A study by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health corroborated these findings. (16)

It is important to recognize that these studies involved all military veterans, not just those of Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, correlation does not equal causation. Other factors, such as gun availability, may be involved. Needless to say, given the high rates of PTSD among veterans and the despicably poor care veterans have received at military hospitals, such as Walter Reed, it is highly probable that many of these suicides can trace their way back to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is also needless to say that the casualty figures tossed out by the Pentagon dreadfully understates the real toll of war. Thus, it is even more unfortunate that the anti-war movement seems to have come to a complete halt now that Barack Obama is in office, despite the fact he hasn’t changed much of anything regarding foreign policy. Given the extraordinary and underreported human cost as well as the fact the U.S. is basically bankrupt and we’ve done exactly what Osama Bin Laden said he wanted us to do, the very least we could do is get those protests going again

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