Iraq Death Toll

New York Daily News — Terrible Tally: 800 U.S. Deaths In Iraq War

America is about to pass – or may already have passed – another sad milestone in Iraq: 800 dead soldiers.

The Pentagon’s official death toll, usually a few days behind the actual number, stood at 797 yesterday. But a reliable count maintained at the lunaville.org Web site, which monitors news reports and compares them with the Pentagon’s running tally, put the real number at 803.

Showing just how disproportionate the U.S. sacrifice is in Iraq, the total number of deaths for the other countries in the Iraq coalition is 110.

Certainly, 800 deaths is substantial. It’s four times what I had predicted beforehand (I was low for the regime change phase but didn’t anticipate the scope of the insurgency/terrorist aftermath). Each one of these deaths is a personal tragedy, leaving behind a lot of mourners.

But let’s have a little perspective, shall we?


Source: History News Network

As the data show, 800 deaths pales in comparison with almost every war we’ve ever fought. And, certainly, one doesn’t want to take the disproportionate American deaths argument too far when one looks at the two World Wars. We lost many times 800 in both the Mexican War and the Spanish-American War, the rationales for which are long forgotten by most.

Indeed, there are perhaps dozens of battles in American history in which we took more than 800 deaths. A very few examples:

Not to mention:

(Note: Estimates vary widely for some of these battles; I’ve chosen representative numbers and given hyperlinks.)

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. 1MaNLan says:

    Ahhh…..but the day is still young. At least in former wars, there was a definite structure to be fought. The enemy was a concrete entity existing within physical boundaries. This is a “war on terror”, or, at least its being marketed that way. Iraq is merely the “central front”. Of course, terror, like torture, has always existed and always will. There will be no end to it, particularly if the already murky parameters of the war continue to shift towards “civilizational boundaries” (East versus West, Christian versus Moslem, light skinned versus dark skinned, etc). Give it another decade or two, particularly as the self fulfilling prophecy of WMD use begins to be used by both sides against the other. That is the slippery slope that we have got to (who would have imagined that elements in America governement and media, like Inhofe, Lott and Limbaugh, would ever stand up to defend the istitutional use of torture even 2 years ago?). In the present accounting, we are “only” (tell that to the families of the dead) 800 bodies down, a certain number maimed, 268 billion in the hole….but the day is young.

  2. McGehee says:

    (who would have imagined that elements in America governement and media, like Inhofe, Lott and Limbaugh, would ever stand up to defend the istitutional use of torture even 2 years ago?)

    Or elements of left-wing legal academia, like Alan Dershowitz?

    Oh wait — that was more than two years ago. Never mind.

  3. Len tavernetti says:

    What is more significant than the raw number is the population of the U.S. during each of these conflicts and the realization that prior to the 20th century each loss meant somone wasn’t coming home to run the farm and there was no social program to help the widows and orphans left behind.

  4. Your “perspective” is simplistic. How can you compare the war in Iraq with WWs I or II, the Revolutionary war, or the Civil war?

    Those were not exactly wars of choice — which I now believe this war was.

    Additionally, you are now and rationalizing. None of those wars distracted us from the real war — catching the bastards who were behind 9/11. Moving men and material
    away from Afghanistan has turned out to be a colossal strategic blunder.

    Then add to the mix that the war was executed poorly by rank amateur civilians, micromanaging and overruling the pros in the Pentagon.

    Just poor poor planning and execution . . .

    -A dissapointed Hawk.

  5. Boyd says:

    Unfortunately for your view, Barry, the U.S. military was originally designed to be managed by “amateur civilians.” It would be naïve to think that the military is anything but a political tool, to be wielded by politicians.

    On the other hand, how well those civilians have used the military is a valid point for debate. But in my mind, not the fact that the U.S. has always had civilian control of the military. That’s the way the Constitution was written.

  6. Oh but quite the argument can be made that the Civil War WAS a war of choice. And what a bloody choice it was.

    Though I question HNN’s totals for the Civil War. Everything I’ve read has the total deaths around 620,000.

    Perhaps HNN is claiming 863,153 casualties? But that number seems fairly low.

  7. McGehee says:

    Hmm. Given the medical technology of the time, and the high death rate among the injured while under doctors’ care, the idea that only about 240,000 or so survived war wounds doesn’t strike me as all that far-fetched.

    Of course, I suppose I could Google® the actual official casualty figures (if there are any) but where’s the fun in that?

  8. bryan says:

    I would note that the figures for VietNam and Korea (both arguably “wars of choice”) are both well beyond 800, as well, Barry.

    Given that we’ve been there over a year now, 800 seems to be very low.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Indeed, I’d argue that almost all of the encounters on the list were wars of choice. Aside from WWII, where we were directly attacked by the enemy, they were pretty much all avoidable. Certainly, our Mexican and Cuban adventures were far more optional than taking out Saddam. One could argue that the post regime change nation building exercise was optional, since it was, but the numbers are still small by any historical measure. And, of course, all the soldiers are volunteers now.

  10. dw says:

    Two things:
    1. As was mentioned before, battlefield medicine was abysmal during the Civil War. The technological advancements in killing devices far outstripped advancements in combat-related medical care for quite a long while, at least until penicillin and improvements in wound care. Something like 50% of Civil War deaths were due to the poor state of medicine.

    2. Most other wars have seen high rates of casualties because everyone lines up and shoots each other. At the end of the war, they all shake hands and start rebuilding. Here, the war really didn’t start until we’d invaded and reached the “end of combat operations.” Leaving the media aside for the moment, I think that’s why you’re seeing such a distaste in the US public for this war — it’s supposed to be over, and people are supposed to die accidently, not from IEDs and ambushes. If we were losing 2-3 a day in battle, it would be tolerable. But we’re losing 2-3 a day when we’re not even supposed to be fighting these people. 800 looks like 8000 under these terms.

    Mind you, I supported finishing the job of Gulf War I, but this has been a piss-poor joke of a management job. To paraphrase Wag The Dog, some people up there think this isn’t a war, it’s a pagent. Someone sold the Iraqis on the idea that the US would come in and give them gold-plated toilets and a Veg-o-matic in every home. Their overblown expectations have been the death of us — literally.

  11. I’m not disputing the quality of CW medicine…when doctors would clean a blade on their already blood-stained apron–it’s no wonder they were considered butchers…but the 620K CW deaths takes into account poor battlefield medicine–so we’re still left with where the 860K figure came from…

    It’s a minor point, to be sure…but I’m being Washingtonniene about it.

  12. .com says:

    Shelby Foote put the CW figures at:
    623,026 dead
    471,427 wounded

  13. John Cross says:

    Hey there!

    I write for drumwaster.com, and penned the linked column a few weeks ago. It’s another way of looking at the casualty figures:

    http://www.drumwaster.com/archives/000983.html

  14. TA says:

    Here is a more current death fidure that I think puts things in even more perspective
    NHTSA estimate for overall highway deaths in 2003
    43,220.

  15. Peter Kurth says:

    What a wonderful commentary on each of those “personal tragedies” and their “mourners” — that the death toll in a useless, senseless, criminal war isn’t nearly as high as it’s been in (a handful of) “just” ones and (a truckful of) pointless ones.

    I assume that when the death toll in Iraq reaches the number of dead in World War II, “a little perspective” will have been achieved and we safely call it off. Yes? pk

  16. Gideon Polya says:

    Dear Sir/Madam, Please find below a news release on horrendous Iraq “excess mortality” (avoidable mortality) – 5.2 million since 1950 and 1.5 million since 1991 (www.control.com.au). This type of scientific analysis is quite revealing: thus “excess mortality” since the ostensibly “bloodless” Fiji coup of 1987 has been about 4500 and “excess mortality” since 1967 in the Palestinian Occupied Territories has been about 340,000.

    In these difficult times it is vital for people of all kinds who are committed to peace, goodwill and humanity to honestly address the most important global issues.

    The Iraq holocaust is NOT being reported by global media; the victims are overwhelmingly CHILDREN. I would be grateful if you would please inform all your associates. Yours sincerely, Dr Gideon Polya
    31 May 2004

    For immediate release

    Ignoring Iraqi Death Toll Labelled a “Holocaust Denial”
    As the international debate about the outcome of last year’s war in Iraq escalates, an Australian scientist has

    ignited the largely suppressed issue of the resulting death toll.

    American authorities have consistently refused to quote casualties other than among Coalition troops

    (805 deaths, according to a current UN report). The UN puts the deaths of Iraqi soldiers at 11,000, while

    estimates of the collateral deaths of Iraqi civilians from the war have varied from 8,875-10,275 (UN)

    to 21,700-55,000 (Medact, UK, November 2003).

    Now, in a conScience column in the June issue of Australasian Science magazine, published today, Dr Gideon Polya reports calculations of another measure from the “excess mortality” attributable to the war. He explains this is “the difference between the actual deaths observed in a country and the mortality expected for a properly run, peaceful society with the same demographics”.

    Dr Polya has been researching and writing a scientific analysis of global mortality. This involves summarising mortality and its causes for all parts of the world throughout history. The ultimate aim is to address the avoidable human mortality that accounts for the approximately 20 million people who die each year from deprivation and malnourishment-related causes.

    His startling estimate is that, for Iraq, excess mortality and infant mortality are “currently of the order of 100,000 per year, or about 300 per day”.

    “Excess mortality and infant mortality have declined dramatically for nearly all developing countries outside Africa over the past 50 years. In Iraq, excess mortality and infant mortality reached a minimum in the 1980s. However, this decline reversed after the 1991 Gulf War.”

    According to UNICEF, in 2001 the under-5 infant mortality was 109,000 in Iraq, which has a population of about 24 million, compared with about 1,000 in Australia (pop. about 20 million).

    “The total excess mortality in Iraq, calculated using United Nations data, is 5.2 million since 1950 and 1.5 million for the period 1991–2004”, Dr Polya writes. “The huge excess mortality in Iraq since 1950 is similar in magnitude to that of the Jewish Holocaust (6 million victims) and the ‘forgotten’ manmade World War II Bengal Famine (4 million Muslim and Hindu victims).”

    Dr Polya recently retired as a senior biochemist at La Trobe University. Deploring the lack of reporting of the real death toll in Iraq, he concludes: “The occupying Coalition, including Australia, is clearly responsible for the continuing excess mortality and infant mortality in Iraq . . . Ignoring mass human mortality in Iraq amounts to holocaust denial.”

    Please cite AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE as the source of this story.

    CONTACTS
    Dr Gideon Polya on (03) 9459 3649 [+61 3 9459 3649].

    The full article can be downloaded as a PDF at http://www.control.com.au.

    For permission to reproduce the full text (500 words) call the Editor, Guy Nolch, on

    (03) 9500 0015 [+61 3 9500 0015].

    A photo of Dr Polya in his lab is available on request.

    FULL TEXT OF COLUMN BY DR POLYA:

    conScience

    Iraqi Death Toll Amounts to a Holocaust

    Gideon Polya calculates the “excess mortality” as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq

    Whether a person dies violently or in bed, any death that is avoidable requires public assessment of causality, culpability and complicity in order to make the world a safer place. Of course, whether a person dies violently or dies from avoidable disease or deprivation, the end result is the same.

    I have been researching and writing a careful analysis of global mortality. My scientific analysis involves summarizing mortality and its causes for all parts of the world throughout history. The ultimate aim of this analysis is to address the avoidable human mortality that accounts for the approximately 20 million people who die each year from deprivation and malnourishment-related causes.

    My analysis is powerfully illustrated by the situation in Iraq. The UK has been militarily involved in Iraq on and off for 90 years and the largely Anglo-American Coalition has been combating Iraqis since 1991.

    Whatever our positions on Iraq, we are morally obliged to assess the actual human cost of our involvement there. One powerful approach is to estimate “excess mortality”, which is the difference between the actual deaths observed in a country and the mortality expected for a properly run, peaceful society with the same demographics.

    The total excess mortality in Iraq, calculated using United Nations data, is 5.2 million since 1950 and 1.5 million for the period 1991-2004.

    The huge excess mortality in Iraq since 1950 is similar in magnitude to that of the Jewish Holocaust (six million victims) and the “forgotten”, man-made, World War II Bengal Famine (four million Muslim and Hindu victims).

    My estimates of excess mortality for Iraq are consistent with the under-5 infant mortality in Iraq, estimated from UNICEF data to be 3.3 million since 1950 and 1.2 million in the period 1991-2004.

    Excess mortality and infant mortality have declined dramatically for nearly all developing countries outside Africa over the past 50 years. In Iraq, excess mortality and infant mortality reached a minimum in the 1980s. However, this decline reversed after the 1991 Gulf War.

    According to UNICEF, in 2001 the under-5 infant mortality was 109,000 in Iraq, which has a population of about 24 million, compared with about 1,000 in Australia, which has a population of about 20 million.

    Rulers are responsible for the ruled. Accordingly the occupying Coalition, including Australia, is clearly responsible for the continuing excess mortality and infant mortality in Iraq. Both are estimated to be currently of the order of 100,000 per year, or about 300 per day.

    John Valder, a former president of the Liberal Party, has recently called for war crimes trials of the leaders of the Coalition, adducing the illegality of the invasion of Iraq (The Age, 9 April, 2004). Mass mortality in a conquered population also constitutes a war crime, as well as a humanitarian tragedy.

    The actual Iraqi death toll is not being reported and publicly discussed. Ignoring mass human mortality in Iraq amounts to holocaust denial.

    —-

    Dr Gideon Polya recently retired as a senior biochemist at La Trobe University. He is the author of the pharmacological reference Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds. conScience is a column for Australians to express forthright views on national issues. Views expressed are those of the author.

  17. Anonymous says:

    You talk about human life as it were bushels of Corn! Maybe you should go to Iraq and look death in the face then the deaths my have more meaning. Your stats are of military deaths.
    WWII took over 80 million lives civilian and military. To date over 30,000 Iraqis have died. Most of them innocents

  18. Joe says:

    The Iraq War will probably last a very very long time. Given that it isn’t over yet, 800 dead at this stage, is indeed quite high. The reason that comparisons with other wars aren’t relevant is that type of combat in this one is totally different fom the others. It’s not fought on the battlefields by large and well-equipped armies. This is urban guerilla warfare fought largely by terrorists. They ‘cherry-pick’ at American and coalition forces. As long as foreigners continue to occupy Iraq, the natives there and the terrorists with which they are allied, will go on killing them. Just as the natives, in even greater dispoportionate numbers wil die as well. Sad, but true.

    The Bush administration didn’t listen to its allies, misled the public, and unfortunately, Americans are all paying the price for this reckless, miscalculated misadventure. They should have done their homework and learned a little from history. They should have realized that WWII and the Cold War, were not won by fighting the enemy in unilateral fashion.

    It required a huge coalition by the allies to defeat Germany and Japan in WWII. It’s also the same reason the two latter powers were defeated, they didn’t have enough allies. IN the second instance, the Cold War was won not just be the efforts of the US, but by the COMBINED efforts of its Western and capitalist allies. Again, it’s the same reason the Soviet Union lost the Cold War. They didn’t have enough allies. President Dumbo Bush doesn’t learn the lessons of history. You know the saying by George Santayana, “Those who don’t learn the lesssons from history, are condemned to repeat it.”