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March 22, 2003


I know I seem like a warblogger, and I promise I'll shift to something more esoteric and non-current-eventsy very soon, but check this table out on fatalities by profession. It ranges from 50 per 100,000 for cab-drivers to 100 per 100,000 for fisherman & loggers. Granted, there have surely been work related fatalities in the American military in the past year, but we've had about 30 fatalities so far, and perhaps we'll go up to 200-300 in the current campaign if we don't get into house-to-house fighting. How many fatalities occurred during the Afghan campaign? Look at this table of historic casualty rates. I don't do this to say that being a soldier is something that isn't a big deal-but for me, the "chickenhawk" insult seems less resonant taking into the account the changes that have been wrought by technology in the post-Vietnam era. Casualty rates seem to be approaching the order of magnitude of some of the more cvil dangerous professions. That is most certainly a good thing.

Posted by razib at 07:54 PM

Late-night convenience story clerks are not separated from cashiers on the table, but when they are they have fatality rate comparable to taxi drivers, for the same reasons.

"7-11: we put our lives on the line so you won't run out of beer!"

Posted by: zizka at March 23, 2003 12:35 PM

American military technology is truely amazing, and although we can probably fight wars with lower casualty rates in most cases, I do not think the comparison to civilian professions is valid.

First and foremost, job related casualties are uncorolated, ie the deaths of one fishing boat are unlrelated to the deaths on another fishing boat. In war, deaths most certainly are corrolated, overwhelming force leads to a cakewalk, getting suprised in a trap could easily lead to mass death. Additionally you can't expect the enemy to maintain the same tactics, which could lead to a very different american death rate.

The fact that the death rate of civilian jobs is uncorrelated allows the number of deaths to be predicatble in a statistical sense. The number of War related deaths will always be a function of portion of correlations space sampled, ie if we are fighting in less favorable terrain (a jungle), a more foridable advisary (N. Korea) or if we have to fight door to door, each case would have a different death rate, and the tactics the opponent uses and would thus be highly unpredictable.

In the conflicts you are basing your estimates on we have the deaths have been pretty isolated an uncorrelated, but soliders may have to fight in conditions that are not as favorable against better tatics and the their death rate may shoot up drastically. Its easily imaginable the iraqis could kill a couple hundred people in an ambush, and although I don;t know how many of the 300,000 troops are in the fighting, my guess would be a couple of hundred deaths would put the soldiers death rate way ahead of any civilian occupation.

In the gulf war the iraq's did ambush the americans a couple of times, superior tactics on the americans led to low american casualties, but in that local situation the iraqi's had some definitive advatages.

From a utilitarian perspective its important not to underestimate the cost of war. Both so we don't end up being the police man of the world and getting dragged into something nasty and in a fairness sense so there is truth in advertising for the people who serve in the military.

Posted by: -b at March 23, 2003 07:07 PM

I think you're missing the point. There is an old-fashioned view, probably held by only a few people today, that every male citizen _should_ be willing to fight. The corollary is that anyone who won't is without honor, contemptible - and especially unfit to command those who _are_ so willing, unfit to even _advocate_ war. The absolute risk involved isn't the point, really; that can change radically when you least expect it, anyhow.
In this sense, 'chickenhawk' applies to people who avoided military service. The typical warblogger or opinion writer has not faced this and is merely militarily inexperienced, a different thing. Usually also ignorant of military history and technology - born that way, I expect.

Posted by: gcochran at March 23, 2003 08:04 PM

Where does your estimate of 200-300 troops lost come from, is it a guess or is it based on real data. Personally, given the fact that our troops are notorious for endangering themselves to protect innocents (in the first gulf war a special ops soldier in Baghdad gave up his position and had to be extracted because a little girl saw and reported him) I put the casualty rate at about 10 times your estimate. But that is still low, remember this is not the first gulf war, we have regular troops in the enemy homeland and no matter how much they hate Saddam there will always be people who will fight.

Posted by: scott at March 23, 2003 09:25 PM