Wednesday, January 12, 2005

In other news, the sky is blue

The Iraq Survey Group has ended its quest to locate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with a revelation sure to stun anyone just waking up from a two-year coma: There aren't any. But hey, it's not like the Iraq war was about WMDs in the first place, right? Oh, you say it was? Because I could have sworn it was about fighting al-Qaeda terrorists. Or maybe stabilizing the Middle East. Or perhaps bringing democracy to the Iraqi people. Take your pick.

Saddam Hussein is in jail and out of power, and that's undeniably a good thing. Unfortunately, brave Americans are still paying the price of his deposal every day, and things don't look to be getting a lot safer in Iraq any time soon.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not going to argue about the reason for the war, but I'll note an interesting side note that is never mentioned when Iraq death tolls are mentioned.

The Web site you cite gives the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq as 1,357. Today (rather, yesterday at this point in the night), CNN reports (http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/01/12/powell.troops.iraq/index.html) that "The Pentagon has increased the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to 150,000 ahead of elections for a transitional national assembly."

If you do the math, 1,357 is not even one percent of 150,000. Now I know that we probably haven't had that many troops in Iraq before today, but I thought we at least had 100,000 over there. If you use that number of troops, you still haven't even lost two percent of your troops.

Now granted, every soldier that gave his life for America is far greater than a simple statistic, but I'd be willing to be that the fatality rate is one of the lowest rates in any American conflict. That's good news in my book.

Maybe Vince McMahon of the WWE was right when he spoke to U.S. forces in Iraq - maybe the media does portray the war in too much of a negative fashion.

J.B.G.

12:26 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

I don't know how to put this any more gently: You're wrong. Take a look, if you will, at this PDF history lesson from the Department of Defense.

Let's crunch those numbers to determine fatality rates. The first number is the total number of military deaths (from combat, disease, friendly fire, etc.), and the second is the total number of personnel serving in all branches during that war.

War of 1812: 2,260/286,730 = 0.788%
Mexican War: 13,283/78,718 = 16.874%
Civil War (Union): 364,511/2,213,363 = 16.469%
Spanish-American War: 2,446/306,760 = 0.797%
World War I: 116,516/4,734,991 = 2,461%
World War II: 405,399/16,112,566 = 2.516%
Korean War: 36,574/5,720,000 = 0.639%
Vietnam War: 58,209/8,744,000 = 0.666%
Gulf War I: 382/2,225,000 = 0.0002%
Gulf War II: 1,357/150,000 (est.) = 0.905%

Five wars had lower fatality rates than Gulf War II, and four had higher rates. The American Revolution, with 4,435 battle deaths and an unrecorded number of other deaths, likely also had a higher rate, which would place Gulf War II squarely in the middle of the list when it comes to fatality rates.

2:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not really related to this post, but related to Iraq... I thought this blog was interesting: http://www.citizenfrank.com .

Miltary guy from Alabama, in Iraq.

KW

7:15 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

You're right. Citizen Frank is an excellent blog that I've been reading for a while, and he seems like an all-around good guy on top of that. It's recommended reading for everyone.

7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'd be willing to bet that the fatality rate is one of the lowest rates in any American conflict. " (Left off the t in my original post.)

Am I wrong? I didn't claim that Gulf War II had the lowest fatality rate - I claimed it had one of the lowest rates, and even though it's in the middle of 11 American conflicts, it's still low compared to the higher conflicts.

According to these numbers, Gulf War II's rate and the rates of the five conflicts that are below it are less than one percent. The next highest fatality rate is about 2.7 times greater than GW II, though it's still a small percentage. The rates of the two worst conflicts for which we have data are as much as 18.6 times the rate of GW II.

GW II's rate is only the median of the numbers (the middle number of the set), not the mean or the average (The average of the ten numbers you list is 4.212 percent, 4.6 times the rate of GW II). So though you're sort of right when you say it's square in the middle of the American conflicts, it's very misleading due to the much higher numbers of the bloodier conflicts.

So I'll stand by my claim that Gulf War II's fatality rate is one of the lowest in American history. And the math backs me up.

One small note: I think you meant to type the fatality rate for World War I as 2.461 percent, not 2,461 percent. Slight typo, I know, but math errors like that blow up space shuttles. (I think that comment is begging for a flame.)

J.B.G.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Typo dually noted. Commas can get slippery sometimes, but fortunately, they don't often catch fire.

You're personally free to ignore or gloss over whatever mathematical evidence you'd like if it disagrees with your preconceived notions, but try not to go too far in claiming categorically that the math backs you up on saying Gulf War II has "one of the lowest" fatality rates when it's the median on the list.

Under that kind of loose interpretation of the data, one could theoretically claim that the Civil War had "one of the lowest" fatality rates, since it is lower than one other war on the list. Where's your cutoff point for determining what's "higher" or "lower," and why isn't it in the middle where logic would dictate?

Your statement is analogous to me using the CBS SportsLine rankings of all 117 Division I-A football teams to say that Nebraska (5-6) was "one of the best" teams in the country this year because it finished No. 59. I'm sure Nebraska fans might agree, but I doubt you'd find many other takers.

A final question: How high would the fatality rate in the Iraq war have to be for you not to say it's "one of the lowest" in history?

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight: I'm ignoring the mathematical evidence?

I didn't present any evidence in my initial response. I made an educated guess. But after you presented the numbers, all you've shown me is that surprisingly, many of America's conflicts haven't been that devastating.

Since you’re so fond of rankings, as you tried to draw a very weak analogy between my statements and college football rankings, let’s see the fatality rates from highest to lowest.

Mexican War 16.87%
Civil War (Union) 16.47%
World War II 2.52%
World War I 2.46%
Gulf War II 0.90%Spanish-American War 0.80%
War of 1812 0.79%
Vietnam War 0.67%
Korean War 0.64%
Gulf War I 0.02%

So Gulf War II is fifth out of the ten. Is it comparable to your analogy to 5-6 Nebraska? No.

Nebraska is the median (being the middle team of the group) AND the average (having about a .500 win percentage, with most teams ranked lower having a lower win percentage and most teams ranked higher having a higher percentage – with the total percentages likely averaging .500). If Gulf War II is like any football team, they’d probably be closer to #95 Temple at 2-9.

But math terms aside, we can clearly see that Gulf War II’s numbers are closer to the lower end of the spectrum than the higher end. It’s below the 1 percent mark, whereas the other wars are more than twice that (with the top two being much higher).

To answer your question, if there is a mythical “cutoff point,” it could be one percent or it could be slightly or greatly higher than WWII’s 2.52 percent. Between the Gulf War and WWII, we’re only talking about a 2.5 percent swing. I’m not in the military nor am I a president, but I think even a large troop loss of 2.52 percent loss is minimal. Sixteen percent seems significant, but it still seems that when more than 83 percent of your troops come home, it’s a good thing.

Let's think of the percentage that survive as grades. In Gulf War II, 99.1 survive. In the Korean War, it was 99.36. Hey - they'd both be at least 4.0's (4.33 on plus/minus).

Rankings alone mean nothing without analyzing the numbers behind it. Ralph Nader came in third in last year’s presidential election, but the votes show that he was nowhere near second place.

Another thing to point out is that Gulf War II has seen the second-fewest loss of troops in raw numbers, right behind Gulf War I. That doesn’t mean much at all right now, because the war’s not over, it’s still a shorter war than some of the others, and this war isn’t quite like the others (as in we’re not fighting uniformed soldiers in a field, for instance). Plus, the number of troops we’ve used is also the second-fewest among all the wars so far. But anyway.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

"I think even a large troop loss of 2.52 percent loss is minimal. Sixteen percent seems significant, but it still seems that when more than 83 percent of your troops come home, it's a good thing."

I hope you aren't actually as heartless as your last comment made you sound. You're using fatality rates to grade wars on a GPA scale? Then I guess Vietnam was a complete success since it got a 4.0. I guess you should tell the families of all of those thousands of soldiers who died in World War II and Korea and Iraq should just quit all that gnashing and wailing because, hey, we got an A+ on the death rate!

You clearly haven't paid much attention to the history of warfare. Otherwise, you would know that even in wars and battles that history deems horrible, bloody failures, a large majority of the losing side's troops almost always survives the fight. The Battle of Little Big Horn was the exception, not the rule.

I stand by my ratings analogy, since Gulf War II is in the middle of 11 wars (American Revolution included) on the list of fatality rates and therefore not "one of the lowest." The middle is the middle, not the lower half. Excluding the Revolution, Gulf War II is in the upper half, which certainly is not the lower half. Feel free to think you're right on that point if you'd like, but I've heard enough of that argument, and I dismiss it.

How high would the fatality rate in Iraq have to go before you drop the mathematical nitpicking and reconnect with your human side?

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I said in my first post, "Now granted, every soldier that gave his life for America is far greater than a simple statistic..." I'm sorry if my argument over the numbers made you believe that I'm heartless for some reason, because we both know that's not true. I wear America on my sleeve (and sometimes, America's colors on my tie), and I once tried to organize a school walk-out to protest the school's non-observance of Veteran's Day. So I'd appreciate not being called heartless for something I obviously care about.

No, I never took any classes on American warfare, and I don't claim to know everything nor claim that I'm always right. However, I was on the math team for six years, so I do know a thing or two about math.

If you want to dismiss the whole math argument, fine. At least concede my point that overall, Gulf War II still has a low fatality rate, one that's not even in the same league as the two with the highest fatality rate. If Gulf War II isn't "one of the lowest," is it "one of the highest" to you? I'll stand on my Nader analogy show how ridiculous that sounds.

Here's why your analogy doesn't work: If the football poll was a teeter-totter, you could stand on Nebraska and not fall off, because both sides of it are the same. Not true for our fatality teeter-totter. You couldn't stand on the Gulf War II and stay balanced, because one side is much heavier, because the difference between GW2 and that side is far greater than GW2 and the lower wars.

Plot the values on a chart if you can't see the differences. The differences between the bottom six on the list is minimal (Gulf War II being at the top of that list), but between them and and the highest numbers, it's a very great difference.

J.B.G.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

I was just remarking that the comment inadvertently made you sound heartless. For the record, I know you aren't. I apologize if I led you to believe I think otherwise.

Gulf War II's fatality rate is low when compared to that of the Civil War or the Mexican War, but it's neither one of the highest nor one of the lowest in American history. It's the median, period.

I understand your argument about the teeter-totter and the disparity in the percentages, but we're arguing about different aspects of the numbers. Saying that Gulf War II's fatality rate is "low" in comparison to some of the other wars in American history is correct, but saying it's "one of the lowest" is not.

Basically, the last few comments have been about semantics, so I'm glad we finally resolved the disagreement. After all, I never did like graph paper -- unless I could play ultimate tic-tac-toe on it, of course.

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to point out the obvious flaw in alabamian's math, but it has to be done to correct the overall glaring fallacy of his math.

Of all the wars he compares to, he lists the total in theater deployed during the total war for those wars. For Gulf War II, he has listed only those currently active in theater. BIG DIFFERENCE.

For example.. I have not run across a sufficient total for total served in theater, but estimates can be from 1 million to 2 million or more! I'll just use 1 million for now to swing the average towards his way.

As of today, there have been 2,686 fatalities divided by 1,000,000 servicemen in theater = 0.2% = the second least casualties in an American war, beat only by Gulf War I.

Please revise your math, Alabamian. One would almost think that you were almost intentionally trying to be deceitful.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Anonymous commenter, the person advancing the "death toll" argument is the one who provided the number 150,000. I simply used his estimate, so if I made a mistake, it was to assume that the argument's proponent would cite a figure that most strongly supported his assertion. The suggestion that my good-faith reliance on his number makes me "deceitful" is groundless and patently offensive.

Your own numbers are estimated and come from almost two years after the time of the initial post. Lots of troops have gone to Iraq for the first time since then. Even if the in-theater total was higher than 150,000 at the time of the initial post (and the estimate by the argument's proponent may well have been too low), it still would have been much closer to that number at the time than it is now.

11:45 AM  

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