December 15, 2004
The United States has suffered over about 11,000 combat casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of these, 13 percent were killed, 48 percent were badly wounded, and 39 percent were lightly wounded (and returned to service within 72 hours.) During World War II, 30 percent of the combat casualties died, while in Vietnam it was 24 percent. Better body armor and better medical care have are responsible for reducing the death rate. Iraq, which accounts for about 90 percent of the 11,000 casualties, is not a little war. By comparison, the American Revolution resulted in 10,623 combat casualties (42 percent of them fatal). The War of 1812 and the Mexican War combined resulted in the 12,500 casualties. The Spanish-American War caused 2,947 casualties, and the 1991 Gulf war 614. Most of these wars were relatively brief. The Gulf war ground combat lasted only five days. The others were over in weeks or months. The Iraq war casualty could in moving up because the war is taking more time.
Americans have always been very sensitive about wartime casualties, creating a pattern whereby after three years, any war (even World War II or the Civil War), becomes decidedly unpopular. But the remarkably low casualties of the 1991 Gulf War made American believe that wars could be fought without high losses. American military leaders, at the time, remarked that this attitude would cause problems in the future. And so it has. While the casualties in Iraq are, historically, lower than ever before, Americans dont notice this. But they do notice that soldiers are being killed. The situation is great for the troops, for a lot more of them are surviving combat. But it makes it more difficult to carry a war to a conclusion.