Artillery: June 4, 2004

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So far, the war on terror has killed 923 American troops. While 801 have died in Iraq, most of the rest died in Afghanistan. Half were married, and they leave behind nearly 600 children. In a sharp break with past wars, three percent of the dead are women. In past wars, the number of military women killed amounted to a tiny fraction of one percent. A third of the deaths were not combat related, 31.3 percent were from accidents and illness. This points out a fact that is often overlooked; that the number of combat casualties has been driven down so low by new technology, tactics and training, that non-combat deaths are now increasing as a percentage of all deaths. Only in the last century has medical care improved to the point where, for the first time in history, more troops were killed from enemy action than due to accidents and disease. But now the technology is driving down the number of combat deaths as well. 

During the Vietnam war, for example, only 19 percent of deaths were from non-combat causes. Moreover, nearly 30 percent (29.4 percent) of the combat deaths in Iraq are from roadside bombs. This sort of thing, and a few deaths booby traps, drift over towards the non-combat category, as it is a common military practice to tear up roads and blow up bridges. The bad roads, and poorly repaired bridges cause traffic deaths that are classified as non-combat, but some battlefield deaths are more closely related to combat than others.

The dead are also older (27 years on average), than in Vietnam (22 years old). This is because there are more reservists involved (17 percent now, versus ten percent in Vietnam). The race of the dead has also changed. During Vietnam, it reflected the racial composition of the country (although early in the war, proportionately more blacks died, versus more whites later in the war.) Today, slightly more whites are killed (70.9 percent) compared to their proportion of the population (69.1 percent.)

Now that its an all-volunteer force, and high educational standards mean that the military isnt accepting those who cant get a job, things like patriotism matter. This element is often missed by the media, but recruiters know that it is often a major factor in the decision to enlist. The rural areas of the country, which contain only about twenty percent of the population these days, produced 29 percent of those who have been killed so far. The majority of the troops still come from cities and suburbs, but nearly a third are country boys (and girls) for whom being uniform is more of a patriotic duty than a job.

 


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