1300 US Deaths Would be a Fairly Bad Month in Vietnam.--

Ann Althouse reports on a man who walked around the Madison Capitol for six hours on Christmas Eve with a sign saying 1300, the approximate number of US deaths so far in the Iraqi War, which is not yet 2 years old. It is important to remember the lives lost, the families ruined, and the families saved. It is also important to place these losses in the context of other wars.

Just to put things in perspective, this would be a fairly bad month in Vietnam, but not unusual.

Consider this stretch of US deaths in Vietnam in 1968:







Or this stretch in 1969:







UPDATE: I am finding the response to my informational post on casualties interesting. My co-blogger Orin Kerr appears to take it in a political direction, as noted by Matt Bruce here.

I think that the Vietnam v. Iraq casualty number comparison is a bit like a Rorschach test ("The [Rorschah] test is considered `projective' because the patient is supposed to project his or her real personality into the inkblot via the interpretation.')--what people see in the comparison reflects more about them than it does about the facts or my post.

I was posting information because I think that one fact can be understood better in the context of another fact. I was not trying to "comfort" anyone. I am certainly not shy about expressing an opinion in my posts, whether it is a relatively definitive one (such as my recent criticism of John Lott), or a conflicted one (such as my recent highly contingent defense of AP). I was not making an argument in my post; I thought that people might be surprised and interested by the comparison (as many of my colleagues are, whether they support or oppose the Iraq War). If I were trying to defend the Iraq War in my post, I would have chosen World War II or the Civil War, not Vietnam. I was not.

Indeed, my view is that looking at numbers doesn't answer the basic question whether a war is worth the cost, and that the cost in lives for a war is not necessarily positively related to its benefits. I certainly didn't suggest this argument or any other in my post, but some people might have suspected this from the choice of Iraq and Vietnam for comparison.

Any substantial number of US lives lost in Vietnam was (I believe) unwarranted because the war was a failure and its goals questionable. If the Iraq War ultimately fails completely in the long run, then any US lives lost fighting it will have been wasted at least from an ex post perspective. And the huge US losses in World War II were justified by the justice of that war's goals and accomplishments.

The Vietnam Comparison -- A Closer Look At The Numbers: 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.

  I have enabled comments. Remember the new comment rule, however: civil and respectful comments only. If you can't say it nicely, don't say it here.

  UPDATE: My apologies for the technical difficulties; we've been having server troubles today and the comments haven't been working. If you can't view or make a comment, try clicking here.

More on the Iraq-Vietnam Casualty Comparison: Phil Carter and Owen West offer their take on Iraq/Vietnam casualty comparisons in Slate. Their conclusion:
After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966—and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today's grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia.
Of course, this isn't exactly the issue that I looked into yesterday, but is somewhat related (and pretty interesting on its own, too).