Yet more on military death rates

This has apparently become the topic of the week. (Well, at least it’s better than Britney’s hair styles…)

Dadmanly posts on the comparison between the number of military deaths in Iraq and the number of military deaths under Bill Clinton, a topic that I first posted on eleven months ago and mentioned again yesterday.

First, I would strongly caution against trying to read too much into this comparison, surprising though the numbers are. Many critics of the comparison are accusing comparison-makers of claiming that “more troops died under Clinton than are dying under Bush”, which isn’t true. Never mind that I don’t know of anyone actually making that claim. Be sure your words cannot be interpreted to make it.

However, the fact isn’t that the numbers are lower than during Clinton’s presidency, it’s that they’re not nearly as much higher as you’d expect considering that we’ve conquered two nations and are in the process of returning those two nations to their rightful owners in the midst of two determined insurgencies.

We are fighting a war and are losing 36% more troops (2001-2004 only) than we lost under Clinton. Is that a lot? I don’t think so, considering what we’ve done and what we’re doing.

Here’s how I got that 36% (using this as a source):

From 1993-2000 under Clinton, the average total size of the military (factoring in Guard and Reserves as they were active) was 1,630,618 per year. During that period, an average of 938 military personnel died per year of all causes for a death rate of 0.057%.

From 2001-2004 under Bush, the average total size of the military (factoring in Guard and Reserves as they were active) was 1,655,947 per year. During that period, an average of 1,297 military personnel died per year of all causes for a death rate of 0.078%.

0.078 is 36.21% higher than 0.057.

Please note that this is the death rate. This means that the respective sizes of the militaries under the two presidents has been factored in. Also please note that this is deaths from all causes. If you check out the charts I created last year, you’ll see that the rate numbers track the total numbers closely enough to pretty much dismiss variations in the size of the force as a meaningful issue.

The point is that if one said the total military death rate under Bush is only about a third higher than it was under Clinton despite the fact that we’ve invaded and liberated two countries from brutal dictatorships and then stuck around to help them deal with even more brutal insurgencies, I don’t think many folks would believe you. But that’s the fact. I don’t know exactly how relevant that fact is, but it is a fact.

If you want to start more dumb number games, maybe you could take the differences and play with them. Say, 1297-938=359 more deaths per year under Bush. So in the six years of Bush’s presidency 2,154 more troops have died than would have died if the death rates had remained as they were under Clinton.

The problem there, of course, is that 2,154 is far fewer than the total of 3,518 that have died in Iraq and Afghanistan so far. 3,518 war zone deaths should have increased the yearly death total by 586, not 359. That could be interpreted to mean that the increase due deployments to war zones has been paritally* offset by a decrease in other areas and, therefore, that Bush’s use of the military in war is more efficient (for want of a better term) than Clinton’s use of the military in peacetime.

That’s the sort of thing you come up with if you try too hard with casualty numbers.

Dadmanly writes:

We are accomplishing much at very little expense, comparatively, however much we grieve at the loss of many fine Americans who have volunteered to serve and paid the ultimate price.

As they say: Indeed.


  1. …deployments to war zones has been more than offset by a decrease in other areas…’ I think you should remove ‘more than’. It implies that the number of deaths has actually gone down, when it has actually gone up slightly. Otherwise I think you’re on solid ground.

  2. NicholasV: You’re right. What I wrote is not what I meant to say. I will change ‘more than’ to ‘partially’ in the post, meaning that though death totals in combat zones are up, some of that increase has been negated by lower death totals elsewhere. The point being that the increase in total deaths under Bush is not as great as the increase in deaths due to combat zone operations. I will use this comment as my footnote on the alteration to the post. Thanks.

  3. Also it’s important that to get those numbers I’m using averages of averages, and that I’m applying 2001-2004 averages to 2005-2006. It’s not meant to be a serious statistical study. It is, as I said, ‘dumb number games’.

  4. Yes, I think your point is a good one though – many people don’t realize how dangerous ‘peace-time’ is for the military. Not as dangerous as war time, but people still die regularly. And then there are the occasional minor conflict that still claim lives. Really what this underscores is, I think, how astoundingly low the number of deaths are in Iraq compared to the size of the effort and recent wars. I think it’s a valid point that we’re not examining wounded. However, many people who make that point are confused by the difference between the number of wounded, and the number with serious wounds. There are many people who have lost limbs, etc. – but they are a pretty small proportion of the number of wounded. I’m not sure about this, but last time I looked at some figures, I got the impression that the number of people with very serious wounds that lead to some kind of permanent disability, is roughly proportional to the number of deaths. The other wounded people, which is many times more, range from a scratch to a bullet wound to a fairly nasty wound that more or less heals after a few months. Not fun, to be sure, but not as bad as losing arms or legs. So I think even if you include amputees and other seriously wounded.. Iraq & Afghsnistan are still amazingly low-casualty wars. I would rather we never had to sound our guys in there. But we did, and 30+ million people now have a chance at liberty. I hope they continue to grasp it, and recognize the sacrifice that US and allied soldiers have made. I certainly won’t forget.

  5. I don’t think your numbers are misleading at all. A significant killer in peacetime is the same as we have now — aircraft and ground vehicle accidents. Planes and Hummers crash, and those crashes can be deadly. A large percentage of our casualties in Iraq have come from aircraft accidents, and those accidents would have happened here if they hadn’t happened there.