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Military deaths since 1980
Posted by: mcq on Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Military duty is inherently dangerous, even in peace time.

Some interesting numbers [pdf] have been released. They give the totals and reasons for military deaths from 1980 through 2004.

Of course we've had no full-scale war on our hands in that time other than Iraq (yes we had various actions and even the Gulf "War", but certainly nothing like Vietnam, Korea or WWII).

The reason this is interesting to me is to point out that in the very recent past we have lost as many in the military to accidents in a year as we have recently to combat in Iraq. In fact, in some years, we've lost 2 to 3 times more to accidents than we have to hostile action in Iraq.

For instance, from 1980 to 1989 the military averaged 2,123 deaths a year. Most from accidents (375 from hostile or terrorist activity). In 1991, 1,787 died on military duty. Of those 147 were KIA in the Gulf War.

In 2003 we suffered 1,410 military deaths, of which, 560 were a result of hostile action. In 2004 it was 1,887, of which 565 were a result of hostile action.

Obviously the last two numbers don't account for the number of wounded in the Iraq war, which numbers about 17,000 as I recall. Those range from light "returned to duty" wounds to multiple amputees (and is the subject for another time).

The point, historically speaking, should be obvious. While every death in Iraq is tragic, it is still a death and no more tragic than the young soldier, sailor, Marine or airman lost in training. The difference with Iraq is the politicial side of the coin. Whereas you have to scour the media to find mention of training accidents (which were higher in the'80s than combat and accidental deaths are now), opinion makers and politicians have found them indespensible in supporting their anti-war agendas. These numbers should provide some context in which to view them and assess the validity of opinions which frequently cite the "quagmire" in which we find ourselves and the cost in blood we're paying.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

What happens to the rates when you normalize against the size of the military (cold war military size vs. post-CW military size?)

Just curious...

Written By: NewEnglandDevil
URL: http://
Good point NED...I would think that Dubya moves up the ranks, when measured in Deaths per Capita Total Force. That is, "A description, not an indictment." BTW.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
As a percentage of Active Duty :

Year %
1980 0.12
1981 0.11
1982 0.11
1983 0.12
1984 0.09
1985 0.10
1986 0.09
1987 0.09
1988 0.09
1989 0.08
1990 0.07
1991 0.09
1992 0.07
1993 0.07
1994 0.07
1995 0.07
1996 0.07
1997 0.06
1998 0.06
1999 0.06
2000 0.06
2001 0.06
2002 0.07
2003 0.10
2004 0.13

This puts 2004 on the same approximate level as 1980 and 1983
Written By: Kevin
URL: http://
To say a military death in Iraq due to military action is "no more tragic than the young soldier, sailor, Marine or airman lost in training" assumes the military action is justified.

"Justified" is a subjective term but if a military action is not justified, then these deaths become much more tragic. Even accidental deaths while on a needless mission are more tragic than those that happen during routine or peacetime activities.

On the other hand, if a mission is justified, then military deaths are regrettable but the human cost of waging war. Arguably, military deaths (accidental or otherwise) caused by a "good" war are even less tragic than those that happen during peacetime.

So, how tragic these deaths are depends on your view of what the military is doing in Iraq.
Written By: Kerry Lange
URL: http://
Well Stuart, if I’m understanding you correctly the best way to save lives would be to reduce the US military to a 50-plus member brass band, and then pack them in packing peanuts...See no military no deaths...
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
A Primer for the Military Force Structure Debate
Written By: Sisyphus
Now Joe, if i understand you correctly, youre trying to tell everyone that youre stupid... yes i think thats it... brilliant Joe absolutely brilliant.
Written By: Dooks
URL: http://
If you take the number and juxtapose them with events. there are some interesting trends.
The most interesting point tht I noticed was that just about the time the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy went on the books (circa 94-95), the number of suicides dropped below 200 and has stayed there ever since. Any correlation, who knows ?
Written By: Neo
URL: http://

You fail to take into consideration lifestyle factors. 18-21 year olds military members lead dangerous lives (high-risk off-duty activities, such as speeding, motorcycle riding, drinking, etc.)

While the death rate would fall, it wouldn’t fall that much. Until we can change the thought process of younger people (who all think they’re invincible), they’ll continue to fall victim to stupid accidents.

I served with several of the people who make up the numbers for 1986-1990, and all of them died because of their own stupidity (much like most 18-21 year olds).

Just something to think about.
Written By: Erik
I think the point being missed here is we have willingly accepted a cost of 2000 plus lives a year in peacetime to just keep a military. In fact, if we consider it in that way, those loses were considered to be a "cost of doing business". Now we have similar costs/loses with a war going on and those losses are deemed "unacceptable" by some.

Pure politics.
Written By: McQ
Dooks, quite the intellectual response there, on your part. I stand in awe of your rhetorical/logical abilities and concede...


Joe, your response was pretty stupid. Not surprising, but disappointing nonetheless.
Again, with my apologies, my argument was stupid. What can I say, with a response like that I am disarmed.
The question I have is WTF does Iraq have to do with any of that? If we had spent what went into Iraq (in men, money and materials) on Afghanistan right from the start we might have Bin Laden’s head on a dull stick by now,

And I’m the stoopit one. Ok, Stuart the fact of the matter is that "If we had spent what went into Iraq (in men, money and materials) on Afghanistan right from the start " well we couldn’t. It’s called logistics the US struggled to place the light brigade it did emplace in Afghanistan. Generally speaking it’s between 100 and 237 pounds per man per day to support troops in combat. Brigade’s roughly 4,000-5,000 troops, total requirement 250-500 tons PER day. All that several thousand kilometres from the source of supply, the ocean, thru Pakistan or via air to one of the ’Stans’ and then by air once again into Afghanistan. It sounds nice but the reality that the US could NEVER have emplaced the the forces in Iraq into Afghanistan.
Islamic insurgents would be flocking there rather than Iraq (where we could destroy them more effectively
Really Stuart? You mean in one of the most mountainous and inhospitable places on Earth where we have only the support of a PLURALITY of the populace? it would be easier to defeat insurgents HERE than in reasonably flat, open Iraq, where a vast majority ofthe populace has no love for the Sunni or Jihadi insurgents? AND if this was going to work, how come it didn’t actually happen? How come all those insurgents didn’t flock to Afghanistan and still don’t? Or is it your opinion that the "take down" of the Taliban government should have occurred over months so that we could get more insurgents to turn up? And of course that still begs the question why the "Flypaper Strategy" didn’t occur from 2001 to 2002, when there was no war in Iraq, but still a war in Afghanistan.
and the whole fallout from this would be less...
How so Stuart? If 20,000 Jihadis were in Afhghanistan Dan Rather and Cindy Sheehan would STILL be talking about "quagmire" and "Vietnam" and the like and we’d still here about "Civil War" and "civilian casualties" and "innocent civilians" only the discussion would be focused Kabul and Kandahar, not Bagdad and Basra. And folks like you would be carping about the losses in AFGHANISTAN, not Iraq. Nice try Stuart. But your analysis doesn’t cut the mustard too well, here. The "fall out" is the US military operations, whether they are in Iraq or Afghanistan.
tell me you see the logic in this Joe so I don’t have to spell it out for you) and more of our troops might be home, mission actually accomplished.
As is fairly obvious Stuart, your logic was NOT persuasive. I am just one of those stoopit people who just doesn’t buy into the Bait and Switch of the anti-War folks, "Oh we oppose THIS war, but we’d have supported a DIFFERENT war." No you wouldn’t have, you’d have deployed the same arguemtns about THAT war, as well.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
"I’m talking about the same level of commitment and focus. Bin Laden and Al Qaida attacked us. Bin Laden and Al "

Is that sort of like transcendental meditation? If we concentrate hard enough, we can fly?
Written By: timactual
URL: http://

While your use of english is commendable and shows intelligence, your reasoning is lacking and illogical.

By your reasoning we should have pulled out of every war we have ever been in (it’s just too costly... save lives). I guess the consequences be damned?

The reality is that Iraq is less of a "war" and more on par with a military action. The casualty figures demonstrate this point.

Remember in the Korean War? we had 38,000+ deaths in less than 4 years. And that was only a regional conflict, a "lesser war". It is often called the "forgotten war" for that reason.

Blame it on your liberal upbringing, the liberal press, liberal educational establishment, whatever, take your pick.

When other people/nations threaten us with physical force, we must respond in kind, thereby preserving our national liberty. This sounds insane only to the irrational.

It appears that you personally lack the basic "moxy" necessary to maintain a free nation. I don’t hold it against you. Not everyone is a soldier.

That’s fine. My brothers and I will stand watch on the wall of freedom so that you can entertain your liberal utopian fantasies in safety.
Written By: Constantine
URL: http://
It is pretty clear that the average number deaths for 10 years before the war was 6 to7 percent. Last year it was 13 percent. Sounds like doubled to me. Misrepresenting data is easy to do you just have to find the right numbers. It is just as bad as those who say "2500 dead isn’t bad - just look at all the traffic deaths." That from those who supposedly "support our trrops." Lets try to support them by bringing them home alive.
Written By: TMcCarty
URL: http://

I must correct you on one fact. The majority of the insurgency in Iraq is not made up of local Iraqi people. The majority come from other islamic countries in the region... Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt to name a few. I volunteer with an organization that works closely with the military, and have had many opportunities to speak with individuals returning from and going to Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus I have had the opportunity to get the info straight from the "horses mouth" as it were. The one story I have heard time and again (including from my brother who spent 6mos. over there) is how disgusted the troops are with the media. Words are twisted and stories are spun to give fodder to specific points of view. These guys are just trying to follow orders and do thier jobs, while these reporters (I’m sure not all are like this) are coming in with a pre-concieved idea of what’s going on and pick and choose which parts to piece together to make a "sexy" story. To tell you the truth, it almost makes me sick to my somach to think how half truths and blatent conjecture is substituted for the whole story.

Just something to consider.

Written By: Mike
URL: http://
the presumption that Saddam Hussein and his dictatorial regime were not a "grave danger" to the U.S. and its interests is ludicrous, and is the bedrock of the argument against it.

"...but he was boxed in" is a silly way of trivializing Iraq, the Hussein regime and indeed, the difficult war we face today.

Of course other options can be debated. But this was AN option....removing a dictator and giving freedom a chance in Iraq, as well as giving the U.S. a strategic regional foothold during this conflict.

If civilian slaughterers (terrorists) from Iraq and other nations weren’t doing what they’re doing (slaughtering civilians), they’d have a society on their hands over there.

some folks would rather this NOT be the case...not at this time...not in this way...not for these reasons etc... you know the drill.

But as John Kerry himself said, in an effort to bash Bush, "only a handful of this stuff could knock down buildings and blow planes out of the sky", referring to the stockpiles of weapons that were all over Iraq.

Written By: dberriman
URL: http://
compared to past wars, the casualties in Iraq have been extremely light. Afghanistan even less. Is everyone forgetting on one day nearly 3000 CIVILIANS were killed in less than 2 hours. Over the course of 5 years we have barely lost that many military personnel, people who chose to put themselves at risk. And when you compare accident rates, homicides, etc. in the civilian population today, it becomes clear that the U.S. serviceman is safer in Iraq than in most major U.S. cities.
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