Tuesday, April 20, 2004

How to turn Iraq into Vietnam 

...easy. Just play around with figures. Like this story from Drew Brown of Knight-Ridder/Tribune (also reprinted in Brisbane "Courier Mail" but not available on the net):

"With fighting in Iraq now at its worst, the number of U.S. troops killed by enemy fire has reached the highest level since the Vietnam War."

How does Brown reach that conclusion? He asks an expert: David Segal, director of the University of Maryland's Center for Research on Military Organization. "This has been some pretty intense fighting... We're looking at what happened during the major battles of Vietnam," observed Segal.

And Brown's story continues: "The last time U.S. troops experienced a two-week loss such as this one in Iraq was October 1971, two years before U.S. ground involvement ended in Vietnam."

Major battles in Vietnam? Two week loss in October 1971? Really?

There have been 98 American deaths so far this month, the highest total for any month since the fighting began last year.

47,413 American soldiers died in combat in Vietnam (that's the so called "hostile deaths", since there were also 10,785 other deaths, which we won't count for this purpose). The war lasted for 90 months (August 1964, post Tonkin Gulf incident, to January 1972 when South Vietnamese army took over most operations). This comes to an average of just under 527 killed in action per month.

Between 1966 and 1971, which when the major combat operations were taking place in Vietnam, the lowest monthly casualty rates were January 1966 (196 killed) and December 1971 (157 killed). Picking a month at random, in June 1968, 536 Americans were killed in combat.

October 1971 had 196 killed in action. I don't have the fortnightly figures that Brown writes about, but averaging out we'll get 98 killed, so he's right, the April casualties in Iraq are comparable to October 1971 in Vietnam - albeit Brown seems to compare a two week period in Vietnam with an almost three week period in Iraq.

We can forgive him that. But...

To answer my initial question: how do we turn Iraq into Vietnam? Just take the lowest monthly death count from Vietnam and compare it to the highest monthly death count from Iraq. I told you it was easy.

What Brown should have written is that the number of U.S. troops killed by enemy fire has reached the highest level since the tail-end of Vietnam War. And Segal obviously doesn't have a clue what "the major battles of Vietnam" involved.

Then again, why should Brown and Segal let facts get in the way of a good (or indeed, bad) story?

The left just never learns. That includes to count.


A few hours later, and a lot more traffic later (thank you Andrew Sullivan). I stand behind my conclusions (and I thank readers for their comments, both pro and against).

I might just raise three quick points:

1) It is inappropriate to compare casualty rates in Iraq to those in Vietnam at any point before late 1965, as until then the troop levels on the ground were insignificant (as was the nature of the fighting, compared to what came later on).

2) Brown's statement that "With fighting in Iraq now at its worst, the number of U.S. troops killed by enemy fire has reached the highest level since the Vietnam War" is technically true but misleading, since the action in Iraq is the longest and most intensive American military engagement since the Vietnam War.

While the casualty levels might be the highest since Vietnam War, the point I and numerous other commentators are making is that they are nowhere near as high as the casualty levels during the Vietnam War.

3) Lastly, let us remember the 241 Marines killed in one day in Beirut, Lebanon in October 1983 - surely the bloodiest day (and still the bloodiest month) for US military since the Vietnam War.


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