Iraq War Dead for January, 2006

Here are the updated graphs of US war deaths in Iraq for January, with 62 US fatalities during the month. As always, I’m comparing the military casualties to those from the Vietnam war at a similar point in each war’s political lifetime (which some have charged is misleading; see disclaimer below).

The data come from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville’s page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.

The first graph shows the first 35 months of each war. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

Disclaimer: Every so often someone comes along and says I’m guilty of intellectual dishonesty by comparing apples to oranges in these graphs. For the record, here’s what I am not arguing with these graphs:

  • I’m not saying that Iraq is somehow deadlier per soldier-on-the-ground than Vietnam. For both wars, the number of fatalities in any given month tracks pretty closely with the number of troops deployed (along with the intensity of the combat operations being conducted). There are more troops in Iraq today than were in Vietnam during the “corresponding” parts of the graphs. Similarly, for later years in Vietnam, when the monthly death toll exceeded the current Iraq numbers, there were many more troops in place.
  • I am not saying that Iraq is somehow “worse” than Vietnam, and have not chosen the starting dates for the respective graphs out of a desire to make a dishonest argument to that effect. I include the first graph mainly because I wanted a zoomed-in view of the Iraq data. And I include the second graph, which shows the entire span of the Vietnam war, because I want to be clear about what the data show about overall death tolls — where any rational assessment would have to conclude that, at least so far, Iraq has been far less significant (at least in terms of US combat fatalities) than Vietnam.

I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and how those deaths played out in terms of their political impact inside the US. For that reason, I chose as the starting point for each graph the first fatality that a US president acknowledged (belatedly, in the case of the Vietnam graph, since US involvement in the war “began” under Kennedy, but the acknowledgement was made only later by Johnson) as being the result of the war in question.

As ever, you are free to draw your own conclusions. And for that matter, you’re free to draw your own graphs, if you have a way of presenting the information that you believe would be more honest. In that case, feel free to post a comment with a URL to your own version. Thanks.

12 Responses to “Iraq War Dead for January, 2006”

  1. TeacherVet Says:

    Strangely enough(?), you made adjustments to your disclaimer just as the molehill is about to reach the mountain. Such changes were predicted by posters when you first posted the graphs – so those folks didn’t “lie.”

  2. jbc Says:

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve adjusted the disclaimer in my ongoing effort to say clearly what it is I am (and what I am not) trying to imply by posting these graphs, but if my changes have been predicted in the past by critics, I’m not aware of it. If you want to state more clearly what it is you think I’m doing, and what it is you think it demonstrates, then maybe we can engage in some sort of dialog.

  3. neoliminal Says:

    Could you create a graph showing the relative death tolls PER CAPITA of soldiers. In otherwords, if we have more troops in Iraq than we had at the time in Vietnam, then show the ratio of deaths to soldiers in the field for each conflict over time.

  4. jbc Says:

    People have asked for that before, but I’ve never been able to find good data on the month-by-month troop levels for Vietnam. From what data I have found, my sense is that the monthly death toll tracks pretty closely with current troop levels for each conflict. In other words, neither war is particularly more deadly for a given number of soldiers than the other — though in each case, death rates are also closely tied to what sort of activity is happening at the time. During the first battle of Fallujah, for example, or during the Tet Offensive, casualty rates go way up.

  5. neoliminal Says:

    Do you suspect we are about to experience a spike in the conflict? I don’t think we are, but it’s possible if Bush widens the war to include either Syria or Iran, but currently we aren’t fighting on a “front” in the same way they were in Vietnam. We’re now more in a police action rather than a war.

  6. jbc Says:

    Dunno. If the latest violence is a sign that the long-predicted civil war is getting going in earnest, I could see that leading to an intensification of fighting and a spike in US deaths, but I could just as easily see it leading to a drop in US deaths as the insurgents focus more on killing Iraqis and the US hangs back and doesn’t try to intervene. Mostly, though, I think things are likely to continue more or less as they have been going.

  7. Will8 Says:

    The number of wounded in Viet Nam was about equal to the number of deaths. In Iraq, the number of wounded far exceeds the number of deaths. I think that the two numbers need to be compared in any discussion because there are, because of advanced medical care, fewer deaths now than 30 years ago. The extended cost of the war in Iraq due to the permanent injuries and future medical costs associated with the treatment of those injuries will be a presently uncalculated cost that will burden the next several generations … more deficits created by this Administration.

  8. treehugger Says:

    Excellent point.

  9. tlstrieg Says:

    As a Vietnam veteran I’d like to point out one difference between the period between December 1961 – December 1964 in Vietnam and March 2003 – present in Iraq. During the first three and a half years of the Vietnam war (1961 – 1964) U.S. troops were there in an advisory role. U.S. combat units were not committed to Vietnam until March 1965 when the U.S. marines landed in Danang, and it wasn’t until summer of that year that the first Army divisions arrived. In Iraq, combat units were committed at the biginning of the war. Therefore, comparing casualties for the period between 1961 – 1964 and 2003 – 2005 is somewhat misleading because of the difference in the missions of those two periods.

    Despite the fact that there were more troops in Vietnam at the time, a more comparable period would be between 1965 – 1968 and 2003 -2005.

  10. tlstrieg Says:


    You said, “The number of wounded in Viet Nam was about equal to the number of deaths.”

    I’m not sure what you mean, and maybe I’m misinterpreting you statement, but in Vietman there were over 58,000 deaths and over 300,000 wounded.

  11. slcdb Says:

    “you’re free to draw your own graphs, if you have a way of presenting the information that you believe would be more honest. In that case, feel free to post a comment”

    Maybe a more “honest” way to assess fatality numbers from the two was would be to look at the average fatalities per day for the entire course of each war. This way no one can accuse you of comparing apples and oranges by comparing vastly different phases of the wars with each other.

    Here are the numbers that I calculated:

    Vietnam War:
    Length: 2,800 days
    Deaths: 58,226
    Deaths per day: 20.795

    Iraq War:
    Length: 1,100 days
    Deaths: 2,302
    Deaths per day: 2.093

    There were 10 times more deaths per day, on average, in the Vietnam War than in the Iraq war. I agree that this doesn’t by any means imply that the Vietnam war was somehow “worse” but I think it does give a feel for the the difference in magnitude between the numbers of lives lost in the two conflicts.

    The length of each war in the above data is based on the duration of major combat operations (August 1965 to March 1973 for Vietnam, March 2003 to Present for Iraq). Even if the end of “major combat operations” for Iraq is considered to be the infamous “Mission Accomplished” day there is still a huge disparity between both wars:

    Iraq War (up to “mission accomplished”):
    Length: 42 days (3/19/03 to 5/1/03)
    Deaths: 137
    Deaths per day: 3.262

    Still many times more lives were lost each day, on average, in Vietnam than during the phase of the Iraq war in which most of the intense fighting occurred.

    This is just another way of looking at the figures.

  12. jbc Says:

    Yeah. Or you could just point to the total numbers of deaths so far, and eliminate any whining over where to put the beginning and endpoints: Iraq (to date): 2,303. Vietnam: 58,226.

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