2005 January 20 Thursday
Lowered Death Rate From Wounds Understates Iraq Conflict Violence

An article in the Harvard Gazette reports on how medical progress has reduced death rates from wounds sustained in combat. The good news is that far fewer wounded US soldiers die as compared to previous conflicts. The bad news is that a lot more people come back blind or otherwise maimed.

Better, faster medical care has reduced deaths from the more than 10,000 war injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan to the lowest percentage of any war in American history. In World War II, 30 percent of U.S. soldiers died from wounds received in combat; in Vietnam, 24 percent of the wounded died. In Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the horrific increase in the destructibility of weapons, mortality has dropped to 10 percent.


But that's not entirely good news for the survivors. Injuries from suicide bombs and land mines often leave lifetime disabilities. Surgeons report a depressingly high incidence of blindness. Amputations, seen almost weekly on television, raise distressing questions about how survivors and their families will adapt and function.

One big surprise is that there was little improvement from Vietnam to Gulf War I.

Both sides of the story are told in an article in the Dec. 9 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine written by Atul Gawande, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who gathered data on casualties and talked with surgical teams that served near the front lines. He concludes that the "military medical system has made fundamental - and apparently effective - changes in the strategies and systems of battle care, even since the Persian Gulf War." In that 1990-91 conflict, 24 percent of the wounded died, or more than twice the rate in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

That is surprising and disappointing to me. Sounds like the US military's medical treatment capabilities must have been lagging the civilian state of the art back in 1991.

Also keep in mind that the soldiers have much better armor on their own bodies and on their vehicles. So even the total casualty rate, if compared to other wars, understates the level of daily violence that US soldiers in Iraq are experiencing.

Also see my previous post "Death Rates Of US Soldiers Understate Intensity Of Iraq Fighting".

By the way, if anyone comes across figures for the rates of various types of maiming for US soldiers injured in Iraq please post in the comments or send me an email. For every US soldier killed in Iraq how many have lost a limb, an eye, or been paralyzed or suffered brain damage? How many US soldiers are being permanently (at least until stem cell therapies and tissue engineering make such wounds repairable) injured per month or since the war began?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 January 20 11:20 AM  Mideast Iraq Costs

Invisible Scientist said at January 20, 2005 1:41 PM:

The advanced body armor is a very important contributor to the decline in the dead/wounded ratio.
But according to some articles in the media, there are also advanced armor piercing bullets that
can defeat any modern body armor, and these new bullets might one day be sold by arms dealers to
the insurgents. This would make the war FAR more difficult to manage, and it might double the rate of

Katie said at December 6, 2006 5:54 PM:

Hi, Randall - Did you ever get info on wound statistics for US soldiers in Iraq?

Thanks -

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