Reporting on the 2,000th American Death in Iraq

October 24th, 2005 12:20 AM

Shortly, the 2,000th death of an American serviceman or woman will occur in Iraq. That will generate an orgy of coverage in the American press on how “deadly” the war is. Sidebars will suggest that citizens are becoming “increasingly doubtful” about the conduct of the war. This Newsbusters article denounces that coverage as dishonest, in advance.

I wrote on 24 April, 2004, that the War on Terror is the LEAST bloody war in the history of the United States, measured by deaths per month. This is true going back to the Revolutionary War, even though the nation’s population then was only 1 percent of what it is today. (In impact on the population, every death in the Revolution was equivalent to about 100 deaths today.)


Now, Dan Hallagan has done the detailed research to put all of America’s wars in context and compared them, by their cost in blood and money, to the nation’s populations and economies when those wars occurred. I had used “deaths.” Hallagan uses the correct military meaning of “casualties” including all those killed and wounded.

His conclusions are that Gulf War I was the least bloody war in our history with a casualty rate of 0.00029 percent of the population at the time. The second least is the War on Terror, with a rate of 0.00529 percent. Third, the Spanish American War, at 0.00551. By contrast, the three bloodiest wars were the Revolutionary War at 0.30351 percent, then World War II at 0.80761 percent, and by far the highest, the Civil War at 2.82865 percent.

Note that Mr. Hallagan uses a total of 2,184 for American troops killed in the War on Terror. This is because he includes all deaths in this war, those in Afghanistan plus a few in other places such as the Philippines, whereas the American press today ignores those other deaths. The not-so-subtle bias is that deaths other than in Iraq are in a good cause, and should be ignored. The effort to delegitimize this war applies only to Iraq.

On the cost of the wars, Mr. Hallagan presents his “War Cost Index” which divides “the average annual cost of a war ... by its ending Gross Domestic Product GDP.” In short, this measures how much of the nation’s total economy is devoted to each war.

The three least expensive wars, by that measurement, are Spanish-American War, War Against Terror, and the Vietnam War, with respective indices of 0.00271, 0.00746, and 0.01132. The three most expensive were WW II, the War of 1812, and the Revolutionary War, with respective indices of 0.33676, 0.49069, and 0.59524. Gulf War I and the War of 1812 both move far up the scale compared to their cost in casualties, because these two were fought mostly with more expensive assets, air and sea power.


Mr. Hallagan presents his information both in text and numbers, and in simple, clear graphs. So even the editors and readers of USA Today can read and understand them. In short, I condemn every reporter and every editor in every media source of all types who reports on the 2,000th American military death in Iraq as professionally incompetent, if they do not put those deaths in context with other American wars. Any competent reporter can click the link above, read Mr. Hallagan’s statistics (and their sources), check his math, and then write an honest and competent story when that “milestone death” in Iraq occurs, which will be soon.

I’m not holding my breath for the American press to become competent overnight on this subject, however.