Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics. Oh, And Brit Hume

Posted on November 20, 2007

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I caught this from Newshounds, a great little service available on YouTube that makes good on its promise to “watch fox, so you don’t have to”.

Toward the end of this clip we find the distinguished propagandist, Brit Hume, pointing to a recent Congressional Research Service report that finds that there were just as many military deaths in peaceful 1980 as war-torn 2005. According to the report, there were 2,392 deaths (characterized as accidental deaths by the Fox segment) in 1980, a proportionately identical number to that of 2005. The finding of the non-partisan organization, essentially, is that as many soldiers die in some peace times as in wars like Iraq. So, cheer up America, Iraq isn’t so bad after all.

Though a superficial reading of the statistics does seem to imply such a reality, a closer and more detailed view reveals a completely different story. In Hume’s defense, he’s not so good at that stuff as reading the memos he’s been sent by his political overlords.

Looking at a breakdown of the data (here’s the report) in question over the entire period from 1980 to 2005, we find some important basic information that is worth noting. As the military began to scale down its forces during the Clinton Administration in 1992, the number of active duty troops declined, reaching some 60% of the1980 level by 1999, the last year of Clinton’s administration. It is also important to note that in 1980, the US military was demoralized by Vietnam and struggled with its first incarnation as a volunteer-only organization in modern history. While both the Reagan and Bush administrations neglected the personell structure of the military in favor of blind arms build up, the post-cold war Clinton Administration focused on more educated and better trained recruits.

Remarkably, this strategy brought down the number of deaths to 796, a significant improvement even when considering the fact that the size of the military had been halved. About half of the deaths in 1980, in fact, were not due to accidents at all, according to the report–174 were homicides, 231 were suicides and a remarkable 419 were the result of illness. By 1999, the homicide number was reduced to 34, or 20% of its 1980 level, proportionately. The number of deaths due to illness was a third of what it had once been. The military of the 80’s was a broken mess that huffed and puffed its way through the invasion of Grenada; the military of the 90’s was a sleak beast, ready for whatever Imperialist conquest its leaders cared to wage.

Enter GW Bush. According to the report, all of these indicators begin to go up again starting in 2000, though the size of the military remains the same. Even by the year 2001 the accident rate has increased; the rate of death from illness also increased that year and every subsequent year, coincidentally as Bush applied his compulsion for privatization to the military and outsourced armed forces health care. Remarkably, the number of homicides doubles from 138 in 2001 to 281 in 2005, though again, the troop level remained the same. Looking at other agencies and organizations managed by the Bush administration, such as the Justice Department, NASA and the Department of Consumer Safety, this deadly decline in standards should come as no surprise, even to Brit Hume, who manages to hide the former failures on a regular basis at his day job.

Even, with all of the above, you might still be tempted to note that the Iraq war isn’t so bad, if, poor management not withstanding, as many soldiers were dying in 1980 as 2005. After all, this level of troop mortality created no outcry at the time. But don’t forget that Fox’s main job is to convince you that nothing is wrong in the world except for the fact that homosexuals are teaching your children and that black people use the n-word. In this mission, foot soldiers like Hume must ignore crucial contextualizing information.

Just as important as the number of military deaths, for example, is the total of wounded. Unbelievablly over 23,000 soldiers have been wounded since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to Icasualty.org. A little over half of these injuries were serious enough to merit discharge from active duty. According to Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, “These days, wounded are a much better measure of the intensity of the operations than killed”. Indeed, while a far greater number of soldiers served during the Vietnam War (about 8 million), the number of wounded from the Iraq War is proportionately about the same. Advances in medicine and technology have also reduced the death toll while raising the injury toll; in Vietnam the ratio of wounded to dead was 3 to 1, today in Iraq it is 8 to 1.

Additionally, it can be misleading to calculate the number of deaths from the total number of military personell–1,378,014–in order to compare it to a peace-time military. The proportionate number of deaths in 2005, if one calculates from the number of soldiers stationed in Iraq (160,000 or so), where most of the dying is occuring, is greater than the level in 1980 by a factor of three. And on a much simpler note, if you were a soldier serving in the armed forces from 2000 to 2005, your chances of dying effectively more than doubled by the last year on the job; your chances of being wounded increased astronomically.

And, of course, lets not forget the tens (if not hundreds) of thousand of Iraqi’s killed.

Keep in mind that all of this information is in the same study Hume looked at. But he, of course, was looking for data that exonerates the Bush administration and perpetuates the war.