Friday, November 26, 2010

What would you rather be in: a war or a car?

Military deaths are a controversial subject in any country, at any time. I talk about them in my book; how the types of wars we're fighting nowadays are generally less fatal than in the past. I found some interesting numbers that relate to that in Superfreakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

They write than from 2002 to 2008 (the book is from 2009), there were an average of 1,643 active military personal deaths a year. Weirdly, if you look at the mid-1980s, when we weren't fighting any active wars, there were more than 2,100 military deaths per year. Why? Well, the military is actually smaller now, and we also have better medical care, so more people with injuries survive. But also, it seems that the accidental death rate back then was higher than the death rate by hostile fire now. Strange.

US military casualties
Looking at the chart I made here (click on it to see it larger), with the most recent wars at top, you can see just how few casualties we've had recently when compared to some of our conflicts in the past. In fact, both the current Afghan war and the first Gulf War in 1991 have too few deaths for Excel to even generate a bar for them. (Of course, none of these numbers take into account the other side of the conflict, including their civilians. The Civil War number is so high in part because both sides of the war are included, and it took place on U.S. soil (which few wars have) so civilians were killed, too.)
This information is all incredibly useful so that we can keep these conflicts in perspective when debating their merits. Here's another interesting tidbit from Superfreakonomics: Since 1982, about 42,000 active U.S. military personnel have been killed - roughly the same number of Americans who die in traffic accidents every year. So maybe the best lifesaving bang for our tax buck would be to pull everyone out of Iraq and Afghanistan and put all that money into making tons of safe public transportation instead.

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