I am not exactly comforted by Jim’s comparison of the number of U.S. deaths in Iraq and the number of U.S. deaths at the height of the Vietnam War. While the casualty rate in Vietnam is considerably higher than the rate in Iraq, Jim’s comparison led me to realize that the differences are smaller than I would have thought.
In 2004, the U.S. lost about 75 troops per month in Iraq out of a total force of about 130,000. When comparing this to Vietnam, you need to specify the year of the comparison; the scope of U.S. involvement grew gradually over a period of years. In 1966, the U.S. lost about 500 soldiers per month out of a total force that averaged about 300,000 troops; in 1967, the rate increased to about 1,000 troops per month out of a total force of about 400,000. By 1968-69, the war’s peak, the U.S. averaged about 1,500 lives lost per month out of a total force of about 500,000. [All numbers rounded off. Iraq casualty stats are here; Vietnam stats here. Number of troops in Iraq are here, number in Vietnam are here.]
Jim is quite right that the total number of U.S. deaths in Iraq so far is about the same as the total for a bad month near the peak of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. But I think a more complete picture would be that the scale of U.S. involvement in Iraq is about 25-40% of the scale of U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the ’66-’69 period, and that the chance that a U.S. soldier in Iraq will get killed is about 25% of the chance that a U.S. solider in Vietnam in ’66-’69 would get killed.
Obviously these comparisons are extremely crude. I grabbed my numbers from a few websites I found via Google, and eyeballed some of the numbers from charts. More importantly, the comparison sheds no light on how the two wars compare more broadly, or whether the decision to invade Iraq was right or wrong. But if we look only at the number of troops and casualty rate, the numbers are less far off than I would have thought.
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