Military Deaths (all causes) 1980-2004

UPDATE (21 Feb 2007): No, the numbers for 2005 and 2006 are not here. I don’t think they’re publicly available yet. Just remember that combat deaths declined in both 2005 and 2006. I wrote more about the recent interest in this at Comparing the military death rates.

Instapundit points out this post at Red State which notes that the increase in the total number of deaths in the US military isn’t all that much greater under GW Bush than it was under the previous three (plus) Presidents. Here’s the gist:

Take a look at the actual US Military Casualty figures since 1980. If you do the math, you wil find quite a few surpises. First of all, let’s compare numbers of US Military personnel that died during the first term of the last four presidents.

George W. Bush . . . . . 5187 (2001-2004)
Bill Clinton . . . . . . . . . 4302 (1993-1996)
George H.W. Bush . . . . 6223 (1989-1992)
Ronald Reagan . . . . . . 9163 (1981-1984)

Even during the (per MSM) utopic peacetime of Bill Clinton’s term, we lost 4302 service personnel. H.W. Bush and Reagan actually lost significantly more personnel while never fighting an extensive war, much less a simulaltaneous war on two theaters (Iraq and Afghanistan). Even the dovish Carter lost more people duing his last year in office, in 1980 lost 2392, than W. has lost in any single year of his presidency. (2005 figures are not available but I would wager the numbers would be slightly higher than 2004.)

In 2004, more soldiers died outside of Iraq and Afghanistan than died inside these two war zones (900 in these zones, 987 outside these zones).

I’m guessing that total deaths in 2005 are probably about the same as 2004. 2004 saw 848 deaths in Iraq, 2005 saw 846.

This is, of course very informative and counter to nearly everything you hear on a daily basis, but don’t forget that the militaries under Carter, Reagan, and Bush I were significantly larger than today’s force. Of course, you could also make the argument that the gutting of the military under Clinton set the stage for too few “boots on the ground” in 2003 and beyond, which critics often claim is a contributing factor to the struggle to get the violence under control in the aftermath of the invasion.

But let’s not get all hyped up over this. Yes, things aren’t nearly as doomy and gloomy as Legacy Media tries to tell us, but we should know this already. Here’s a couple of charts I threw together to illustrate the numbers:

So while it’s true that fewer are dying under Bush II than under Reagan or Carter, that total only tells part of the story. But the fact that the death rate is comparable to that while Reagan was President is a bit surprising to me, as is the fact that even the death rate in 2004 (0.110%) was lower than that in 1980 (0.111%).

UPDATE (05 Sep 2006): The original link to the PDF is dead, so I changed it to a local copy of what I believe to be the same numbers. Hat tip to the reader who pointed out the problem.

UPDATE 2: Be sure to check out the latest discussion on this subject.


  1. MO, A rigorous training schedule is enough to account for many of those numbers in peacetime. From 1991-2001, we’re talking in the neighborhood of 1200-2400 killed in accidents annually across all service branches. Like I said in another MO post awhile back, I don’t remember the NY Times dispatching a reporter, or ’60 Minutes’ sending Ed Bradley, when that kid was killed in a truck accident at the NTC in 1993.

  2. Also, one has to take into account two things: Smoking and the Drinking Age. Guaranteed 18-20 yr old enlisted men boozing and then driving was a great (if not the greatest) contributor to fatalites during Carter and early Reagan administrations (it still is, but now it ain’t legal).

  3. Another consideration: When the military is operationaly deployed, the number of fatal training accidents will drop, simply because there is less training. Likewise, the number of military personnel killed in traffic accidents will drop, simply because a significant number are deployed and unable to drive their cars/motorcycles.

  4. MO, You forgot to factor in the relative size of the military during each of those terms. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the total sine in active military manpower has been reduced drastically since Regan. It’s probably not a one to one comparison. Mike

  5. Sorry I meant size not sine. Anyway, a true analysis would not just cover overall deaths. I’d like to see combat deaths, total deaths, combat casualties, total casualties, and total armed forces sizes by year. Then a % calculation for each column vs total size of the armed forces forces as well. The stat analysis on the top of the page is a bit on the light side IMO. Mike

  6. ..but don’t forget that the militaries under Carter, Reagan, and Bush I were significantly larger than today’s force.’ OK forget everything I said… this’ll teach me to read the whole post before commenting. 🙂

  7. Enchi: The first of my two charts shows the percentage of the military, year by year, that died. In other words, it takes the relative sizes into account.

  8. Shipmates, Yup… even peacetime duty is hazardous to your health. I flew with the Navy and in 1978 my wing of 6 squadrons lost 3 aircraft and crews (more than 30 men). Check out the ‘Sea Srvice Obituaries’ in any copy of Navy Times. Guys get lost at sea all the time. Sucked into inlets, fall overboard, crushed by machinery, blown off the flight deck. It’s a dangerous profession. Now consider that this nation loses around 10,000 kids 16-21 every year on the highways. Not too much hue and cry over that in the MSM, now is there? Respects

  9. The biggest killer of troops in peacetime has been the beer and car key combo. One of the ‘fun facts’ of the gulf war I, was that the death rate actually fell as compared to peacetime. While deaths make the headlines and talking points… A better measure would be comparing the discharge rates due to medical reasons. That would show the true impact of combat operations. Nothing brings a war home like visiting a friend who had his arm blown off.

  10. Luckily the number of amputees is not particularly large: Mudville Gazette I was worried by the large number of WIA but it seems a lot of the wounds are minor or recoverable. Still, there seem to be about three times as many wounded badly enough to require at least two weeks worth of treatment than KIA. How many of those lead to a discharge and how many eventually RTD I don’t know. The less wounded the better as far as I’m concerned.. but sometimes you gotta fight for something 🙁

  11. Oops sorry, WIA not RTD covers those who can’t return to duty within three days, not two weeks (I wonder where I got that from?) That isn’t very long, I think a longer cutoff might be more informative, but I understand these statistics are for internal military use so they use a cutoff that makes sense for them.

  12. Hey, do you have data for 2005 too? I think it would be very interesting to see what happens. Does the percentage continue to rise, or level off?

  13. An added modifier would be the effect of modern body armour in reducing deaths and casualties. (another thing regarding total troop numbers, the Clinton Admin. was under great preassure to reduce the BudgetG

  14. Makes me reconsider signing up (joke) when I graduate (btw I will be part of the exception – R. Belzer). Maybe this strengthens views for people who believe in fate – myself included. I mean that these people were destined to die at this time, whether on active duty or not. I personally would be more afraid of injury lists – which might be more significant. Death is a termination, living impaired the rest of your life is a greater loss in my view. Do not get me wrong about the level of sacrifice those who died have given us. Those who have died usually burden the family more, because they have died alongside their fighting brothers and will go to whereever they believe they will go (heaven). The family have to deal with it and any financial problems etc. But those who are injured often lose their future and die lonely. Maybe graphs should be released to show how they need support from the people.

  15. Not that they are bad graphs Murdoc! Just that I think Legacy media should have focused on more relevent things. Letting you make graphs of those stats. Just wanted to clear that up.

  16. Well, I mostly wanted to make it clear that, despite the numbers, things aren’t as rosy as some would have us think. Neither are they as bad as others would have us think. The ‘it was worse under Carter and Reagan’ group aren’t really giving a complete picture, and (of course) the ‘we’re doomed’ group isn’t either. I wanted the graphs to be a bit more complete than either side is being.

  17. Sam: I worked Civil Service for the DoD 1989-1993, and I saw enough waste to, well, to make me get a different job. Not that I’m arguing we should have kept the troop count we had at that point, but I felt then and feel even more today that we cut too many. Another couple divisions of Army and a few more Marines in the mix would have had a HUGE impact on the National Guard/Reserve deployment situation, which I think is the part of the military that really is in bad shape today. There’s no doubt that fat needed to be cut, and there’s no doubt that some military jobs should/could be civilianized. It’s the cut in combat troops that can’t be civilianized, and they’ve been cut all this time but I’d wager that waste isn’t down much.

  18. I think this forces us to ask the question: If peacetime is not much less fatal than war, then at least in terms of military deaths there should be less hesitancy about going to war. Deaths in the cause of expanding freedom for 50 million are a hell of a lot more meaningful than dying in a training exercise.

  19. Murdoc, I say without a doubt, that an unufortunate amount of ‘muscle’ was indeed cut along with the ‘fat’. 🙁

  20. FYI: I had accidentally written ‘2005’ instead of ‘2004’ when comparing the latest year’s death rate to 1980. It has been corrected.

  21. Bullcrap. ‘the gutting of the military under Clinton set the stage for too few ‘boots on the ground’ in 2003 and beyond.’ Bullcrap. it was a bipartisan consensus led by none other then Dick Cheney on the right that cut the size of the military. we’ve had numerous credible reports of Bush wanting to invade Iraq-even before he was in office. Did he prepare the military for the inevitable occupation? no. Have the decepticons tried to increase the number of boots on the ground or in the army? no. (not in substantially) This is the decepticons SNAFU. They own it. Dont try and pin it on Bill, becouse thats just Bullcrap.

  22. further to the notion that peace is dangerous in the military- I was watching the history channel on the battle for the aleutian island of atta. they were saying how typically aircraft operations in ww2 had a loss ratio of 1:1. (for the US)for every aircraft that was lost in combat, one was lost to weather/landings/mechanical. And for the far northern air operations- it was 1:4. combat to non combat losses. ouch! and lets face it, military helicopters just seem to fall out of the sky periodically… anywho… The first chart seems to show that military losses as a percentage of the force climbing dramatically. Also, why arent 2005 numbers on the chart? (they werent in the source) I find the likely answer of concern. Also, wouldnt a better question be what are the losses as a percentage of the deployed force?

  23. Aaron: Yes, percentage is climbing. That’s what this post is about. Good eyes. As I noted, 2004 was below 1980 percentage-wise. 2005 isn’t on the chart because it wasn’t in the source, as you noted. That’s why. I was unable to find complete non-combat deaths for 2005. It’s possible that they haven’t been published yet. Also as I noted, deaths in Iraq in 2005 were down two from 2004. My guess is that Afghanistan is up a little from 2004. No idea on non-combat deaths elsewhere, but (as I noted) my guess is that 2005 is about level with 2004. In other words, about the same as 1980.

  24. RE: ‘Also, wouldnt a better question be what are the losses as a percentage of the deployed force?’ Well, I don’t know about ‘better’, but it would be a different question and one that would be of interest. Deaths per day per division etc. in comparison to previous war deployments has been done to death over the past three years, though. If you look around I’m sure they’re out there.

  25. Bullcrap should spend some time in a library. The draft doger ‘bill’ was the main reason for 9/11.

  26. Are your referring to ‘active’ military? I mean is it possible that you are factoring in retired military…….death due to age?

  27. These numbers do not take into account the fact that only 150,000 were deployed in Iraq at any given time. Using that as a base for calculating casualty rates will result in significantly higher numbers. Also these are totally different from training or off-duty drunk driving deaths, as they were preventable by not going to war in the first place, whereas the majority of the Reagan-era csualties were personal stupidity. Thus even though there are fewer casualties now than there weree in peacetime under Reagan, it makes Bush/Cheney/Wolfowitz no less morally culpable for their deaths, not to mention the 100,000-500,000 Iraquis. Hey, they are people too.

  28. Halap: Like many, you seem to have totally missed what these numbers represent. Read it again. Thanks. And 500K?

  29. While those mythical 100K-500K are indeed people too (although why Bush and Cheney are morally responsible for deaths caused by car bombs/revenge/intimidation killings by other Iraqis/Arabs/Persians is beyond me) but the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed before the invasion by Saddam and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis that would have been killed by Saddam, not to mention the Iranians, Kurds, Saudis, Kuwaitis, Israelites, American pilots, etc that would have been killed by him, his sons, his proxies, do not count as people to you?

  30. War is not a partisan issue, and it’s sickening to hear Americans make it one. I had an Army Command Sergeant Major tell me once, on the occasion of his retirement from Active Duty, ‘In wartime, you’re the best thing since sliced bread. In peacetime you’re a piece of shit.’ This was the observation of a man who retired in 1994 after 30 years service to the nation under Commanders in Chief from both major American political parties. He did not delineate treatment of the military under either party as better or worse. He was making a comment on the American peoples’ attitude toward the military in peace and war. Don’t use political affiliation as a determining factor when deciding the validity of this war or that. Ask only two questions. 1) Was the war waged as an absolute last resort after diplomacy had been tried, tried again, and tried yet further. 2) Did the reasons given by our government for going to war survive intact throughout the conflict.

  31. Body counts have little to nothing to do with the worthiness and justification for any war. Statistics like this also minimize the individual lives lost. Some wars are just and worthy (WWII, Afghanistan, Civil War, the first Gulf War,) others are not, like Iraq, for example. When a nation of people are lead in to a war, like lemmings, under false pretenses, where not even the leaders of the war would initially provide true cause, then that nation eventually becomes a nation of sheep, lead to eventual slaughter. You do not have to be beaten militarily to lose your soul, and there are many ways to lose wars. The economy, and the falling value of the dollar, is just one example. The problem with a hawk, is that it only knows violent force and death to acquire what it needs. While it is away, hunting its prey, the snakes invade its nest, to feast on its offspring. And eventually, it too dies, becoming vile nutrition for the insects and gnats of the world. Great nations are almost always born out of progress, spirit, high moral values, and with revolution over repression, with their hawk-like claws, a justification for a just war. But all throughout history, great nations die. They die out of arrogance and isolationism. What makes anyone think we are any different, especially when, as a nation, we are succumbing to the same traps of self-righteousness? The events of September 11, 2001, were criminal, of the most abhorrent kind. The perpetrators should be hunted down, tried, and/or killed for their crimes. An example should be made of them for their evil and antipathetic deeds. Instead, this disaster of a regressive American administration has lead America down a different, darker path, of which we will never fully recover. Even if we eventually ‘win’ this supposed war in Iraq, our economy will never fully recover, and our soul will be forever tarnished. This war has been, and will continue to be, funded, unnecessarily, on the backs of our children, and our children’s children, and their children’s children. Their standard of living will not be as good as ours has been, nor as good as it could have been. Our economy will continue to shrink, and our production possibilities will be forever restricted, never to be realized as they could have been. Our country, will never be the same. All of this, for a bunch of lies, and a power grab, by a few despicable and misguided individuals…all too good and high-and-mighty to bother themselves with the truth…and the Constitution of the United States. ‘Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little T emporary Safety , deserve neither Liberty nor Safety .’ – Ben Franklin Yet, some of us, instead of admitting a fault, and doing what it takes, as quickly as possible, to repair what we have done, choose to continue to propagate the lies through whatever tomfoolery and pointless statistic we can find. ‘It’s the media! Down with the media! They don’t report the Truth!’ Blah. Blah. Blah. The truth of the pudding, my friends, is in the eating. And right now, the press, especially the so called Fair and Balanced press of Fox News, has been spoon-fed this pudding from day one, and so many people, like gluttons for fear and control, continue to eat it like there is nothing left on Earth to eat. My hope for this country, is that one day soon, very soon, we cease to be sheep, and once again, become conscious of what has truly made this country great, to regain our souls, and become the shepherds our founding fathers provided us the foundation to be, and the Greatest Generation afforded us. Good night.

  32. Very interesting info. release by U.S. General Accountability Office – Voter Reg. Division today regarding political affiliation of U. S. Military personnel outside of U. S. I was surprised by some of the percentages. Data is based on ballots distributed to troops overseas. U.S Political Affiliation – Active Military Republican: 34% Democrat: 35% Independent (Undeclared): 27% American Independent: 2% Green: 1% Other: 1% Not that surprising, reallly. Most of the Independents are probably conservative. Young voters nowadays tend not to want to affiliate with a specific party.