Wednesday, March 21, 2007


While watching news about the fourth anniversary of the United States' invasion of Iraq, I saw some interesting statistics on CNN. Approximately 3,200 U.S soldiers have been killed in the conflict in Iraq. (All the numbers in this post are approximate.) An additional 24,000 have been wounded, 10,000 of them seriously. They didn't define what "seriously" meant, but I imagine it includes things like loss of limbs and head injuries that permanently change the person's mental capabilities.

This is a large number of deaths and injuries, and whether we are in favor of or against the Iraq war, we wish that none of them had to occur. But I am struck by how little those numbers are when compared to conflicts of the past. For example, in all the years of the Vietnam war, 56,000 American troops were killed. The Vietnamese war lasted two to three times as long as the Iraq war has so far, but even if you triple the number of Iraq deaths, the number killed in Vietnam dwarfs them, although the calculus gets a little complex when you realize that many of the soldiers seriously wounded in Iraq would have died in Vietnam.

It's when you move on to other wars of the past that the numbers really get staggering. In World War I, a war that the U.S. was in for only a little more than a year, 116,000 American soldiers died, and we lost 400,000 soldiers in World War II. Losses of other countries in World War II were far greater, with Russia losing 7,500,000 casualties and Germany 3,500,000.

I in no way mean to be minimizing or downplaying the losses of the U.S. in Iraq. Every one of those 3,200 dead left behind loved ones and potential unfulfilled. Rather, I am blown away by how horrible it must have been in World Wars I and II when the casualty reports came in. I remember as a preteen during the Vietnam war reading about the troops killed, which seemed to average about 100 to 200 per week, more, of course, during times like the Tet offensive. Nearly every family knew of another family, perhaps only peripherally, that had lost a loved one in the war. But think of the World Wars, with so many more casualties concentrated into shorter time periods. The psychological burden must have been incredible.

I recently read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Personally, I didn't think it was that great of a book, although I know many others don't share that opinion. It pointed out some horrible statistics about one day losses during World War II. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima killed 70,000 to 100,000 people, the Nagasaki bomb about 40,000. But what many people probably do not realize is that earlier in World War II the fire bombing of Dresden by the Allies, the central event of Slaughterhouse Five, killed 130,000 people in one day, more than were killed by either atomic bomb. And these bombs were all dropped by the good guys, us, on predominantly civilian targets.

I think of the sorrow I see in a family when one baby dies. Anyone who reads the comments on my blog knows that these single losses change the parents' lives forever. When you multiply that sorrow by the numbers of casualties in wars, it becomes truly unfathomable. War must always be a last resort for solving conflicts.


Blogger prematurelabor said...

Doesn't it frequently seem that our country declares war and those that do so have limited involvement? (and thus are partially disconnected from these types of emotional involvement)

I wonder if it the eagerness to go to war would change if those responsible for initiating had to be on 'the front lines'?

When my father was in Vietnam it was just expected that he would go to war, like his father did. My brother and I were not expected to go to war (not a member of the armed forces) and it is not considered noble to do so now. I believe this eagerness to go to war, and its unfortunate outcomes, have definitely changed public perception since world war II.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, in all of the wars you mentioned, the US casualties represent only a small fraction of the total human cost. Estimates of the number of Iraquis killed as a direct result of US invasion and occupation range from 20,000 to 30,000.

4:55 PM  
Blogger frylime said...

hey...i was reading an article in my local newspaper today about "doctor blogs", and it quoted yours! even printed a link to your website. it was talking about privacy and ethical boundaries, etc...

you're famous!

5:18 PM  
Blogger Agatha said...

Your best post ever.

5:44 PM  
Blogger frylime said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:31 PM  
Blogger frylime said...

here's that link! my first attempt didn't work...


6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you thank you. It's about time that someone mentioned how many people died in the other wars. I have lost 2 friends in this war, and my best friend's husband in in Iraq now. The media leads us to believe that the death tolls are high and that there is no good going on over there. Neither is many wonderful things are happening in Iraq right now...and the soldiers feel like they are smacked in the face by citizens that are against the war, the liberal media, and Hollywood. ND I don't know if you are against the war or for it....but thank you for mentioning those statistics!!!!!!!!

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Statistics are lower in this war because medical treatment is so much more advanced and pushed much closer to the front than in any other previous conflict.

Wounds that would have killed personnel as little as 10 years ago are being treated within minutes of sustainment. Our medical personnel are often able to stabilize the wounded and get them to the equivalent of a level 1 trauma center for additional treatment.

7:19 PM  
Anonymous chris and Vic said...

Tonight, on NBC, Richard Engel will be presenting a 4-year War Diary from Iraq, his own personal experiences, embedded with troops.
Chris and Vic

7:31 PM  
Anonymous Dianne said...

IIRC, the ratio of wounds to deaths in Vietnam was 1:3, whereas it is closer to 1:10 currently. So the "corrected" number of deaths of US soldiers is something on the order of 10,000. Still less than Vietnam, but closer than it appears, especially when the length of each war is corrected for. This also only counts direct deaths. Deaths due to suicide from PTSD or other major mental illness (which effects about 19% of Iraq war vets, according to a recent study in JAMA) and other sequelae of injuries, mental or physical, of the Iraq war are not included in this total. Nor are homicides committed by vets who can not control their rage or despair.

Iraqi deaths are in the hundreds of thousands. Iraqbodycount's numbers are vast underestimates since they're using a rigorous passive data collection system. The two Roberts papers are almost certainly underestimates as well. By their estimates the death rate from non-military causes has not changed compared with the late Hussein era. Given the number of hospitals destroyed and doctors killed or forced to emigrate, it seems highly unlikely that the death rate from disease has not changed. Hence, the true number of excess deaths is probably in the 500K-1M range. Too many. If the US is justified in going nuts over less than 3000 casualties on 9/11/01, how can we think that Iraqis will just "forgive and forget" more than 100X that number lost to an unprovoked invasion?

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Pine Baroness said...

What has been lost in all this debate are the victims of the evil dictators. Hitler: more than 6 million, Stalin: 10 million, Saddam: about a million.

If you forget the victims then you cannot understand the reason for going to war.

10:46 PM  
Blogger NeoNurseChic said...

ND - Off topic but I made my blog private to those I invite only. If you are interested, then send me an email (LizzPiano at gmail dot com) so I can add you to the list!

Thanks and take care!
Carrie :)

11:21 PM  
Blogger Ex Utero said...


11:57 AM  
Blogger Magpie said...

I can't find an email address for you, but I chose you for a Thinking Blogger award. Cheers!

1:30 PM  
Blogger Sharee said...

My husband is a soldier who returned from Iraq last year. While he was gone, our baby girl died. We felt blessed that he was able to come home for three weeks (most soldiers only get two weeks when there's a death in the family ... unless it's an older child or spouse) ...

Saying goodbye to my soldier was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Our family was already torn, but at any moment a stray bullet from friendly or enemy fire, an IED or worse could take my best friend's life, too.

As a journalist for the Army I interviewed soldiers whose faces and limbs were disfigured by shrapnel. The metal leaves a horrible tattoo scattered across what was once a handsome face. The stories of 19 and 20 year old BOYS killed in action ... Stories of prosthetic eyes, hands, feet ... stories of insurgent attacks where a soldier grabs his weapon from the mangled vehicle only to realize he's left a leg behind.

All of this haunted me as I said farewell to my husband. Thank God he returned safely. Although he is up for retirement, and won't redeploy, I still live in a community where young men and women are facing their 3rd, 4th and even 5th deployments ... with only short 6 - 10 month breaks between. This strain is destroying military families!

There is a palpable physical, mental, financial and social cost to every war. But is it really worth the price? And who’s left paying the brunt of it?

2:16 PM  
Blogger fancypantsnancy said...

The horrible casualties suffered in WWII by Europeans is why they are much more reluctant to go to War than the US is. And I think if we has had rationing and war bonds like we had in WWII, this war Iraq would have been over long ago. As it is the cost of this war is about equal to our Foreign debt to China- Thanks China!An affordable war and cheap goods to boot.

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The casualties in WWI and WWII are even more staggering when you put them in the context of a much smaller population. In 1940 for instance the US population was about 132 million, as opposed to nearly 300 million today. Small wonder almost eveyone knew someone who had been lost to the war.

5:13 PM  
Blogger neonataldoc said...

Thanks, everyone. Many great points here. Sharee, that must have been horrible to have your baby die with your husband in Iraq. My condolences to you.

Frylime, thanks for the link. I've seen the article.

Magpie, thanks! I'll put a link to your blog on mine.

6:42 PM  
Blogger sexy said...







1:40 AM  

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