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2012 May 28 Monday
Half A Million Americans Brain Damaged From MidEast Wars?

A single blast from an improvised explosive device (IED) causes brain damage.

A team of investigators have shown evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in brain tissue from blast-exposed military service personnel.

Laboratory experiments conducted at Boston University, New York Medical College (NYMC) and the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System demonstrated that exposure to a single blast equivalent to a typical improvised explosive device (IED) results in CTE and long-term brain impairments that accompany the disease. They also found that the blast wind, not the shock wave, from the IED blast leads to traumatic brain injury (TBI) and long-term consequences, including CTE.

This research, which represents the first case series of postmortem brains from U.S. military personnel who were exposed to a blast and/or a concussive injury, will be published online May 16 by Science Translational Medicine.

The number of US soldiers exposed to IED blasts: about 460,000. That's a lot of brain damage. Clearly, these wars did far more harm to America than they were worth. We will pay for their costs for decades to come and those costs will come in many forms. How about soldiers made violent (toward family or strangers) by brain damage? Or soldiers driven to drink or drugs? Or soldiers unable to hold jobs? These wars did great damage to the American nation.

CTE, which can only be diagnosed postmortem, is a progressive neurodegenerative brain disorder that has been reported in athletes with multiple concussions or subconcussive injuries. In early stages, CTE is characterized by the presence of abnormal deposits of a protein called tau in the form of neurofibrillary tangles, glial tangles and neuropil threads throughout the brain. These tau lesions eventually lead to brain cell death. CTE has clinical features in common with TBI, including psychiatric symptoms and long-term cognitive disability involving memory and learning deficits. TBI can impact military personnel exposed to an explosive blast and may affect approximately 20 percent of the 2.3 million servicemen and women deployed since 2001.

Can we please stop fighting wars that harm the national interest?

By Randall Parker    2012 May 28 08:40 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2011 September 21 Wednesday
New Higher US Civil War Death Toll Estimate

A historian estimates that the United States suffered 650,000 to 850,000 deaths as a result of the US Civil War.

BINGHAMTON, NY – The Civil War — already considered the deadliest conflict in American history — in fact took a toll far more severe than previously estimated. That's what a new analysis of census data by Binghamton University historian J. David Hacker reveals.

Hacker says the war's dead numbered about 750,000, an estimate that's 20 percent higher than the commonly cited figure of 620,000. His findings will be published in December in the journal Civil War History.

"The traditional estimate has become iconic," Hacker says. "It's been quoted for the last hundred years or more. If you go with that total for a minute — 620,000 — the number of men dying in the Civil War is more than in all other American wars from the American Revolution through the Korean War combined. And consider that the American population in 1860 was about 31 million people, about one-tenth the size it is today. If the war were fought today, the number of deaths would total 6.2 million."

Even the older lower estimate is a stunning number given the population of the US at the time. Though it is a much lower percentage loss than the Soviet Union suffered in World War II and is a lower percentage than the Serbs suffered in WWI.

Hacker used census numbers for males and females to come up with the much higher range of deaths.

Hacker looked at the ratio of male survival relative to female survival for each age group. He established a "normal" pattern in survival rates for men and women by looking at the numbers for 1850-1860 and 1870-1880. Then he compared the war decade, 1860-1870, relative to the pattern.

His new estimate of Civil War deaths contains a wide margin: 650,000 to 850,000, with 750,000 as the central figure.

Will any industrialized countries engage in wars with such high casualties in the future? Will China and the United States ever duke it out? Or will China and India ever fight a major war?

By Randall Parker    2011 September 21 11:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2007 March 20 Tuesday
NY Times Wants Bigger Army

One of the lessons I learned from Iraq? We should think really hard about staffing up a ground force large enough that a US President could try to use it to spread democracy. Not so the Gray Lady. The editors of the New York Times wants to expand the US Army so that it is big enough to occupy countries like Iraq.

The first lesson is the continued importance of ground soldiers in a world that defense planners predicted would be all about stealth, Star Wars, satellites and Special Operations forces sent on short-term missions. Now we know that enemies hunkered down in caves and urban slums can be as dangerous as those in defense ministry bunkers — and that rebuilding defeated nations is crucial to lasting security.


As long as United States troops are in Iraq, meeting the recruiting quotas of an expanded force will be difficult. The multiple combat tours, the warehoused wounded, the deteriorating Iraqi security situation are a lot to overcome.

Once that is behind us, the Army can be increased substantially, and should be, so long as Congress can assure the country that it will never again delegate away its war powers as carelessly and recklessly as it did in 2002. And so long as the next president understands that the point of having a large Army is to strengthen American diplomacy, not to launch impulsive and unnecessary wars.

Okay, two points here: First, these editors realize that conditions in Iraq make enlistment in the US Army a much less appealing prospect. So they want to get the US out of Iraq first, better to dupe adolescents to sign up. Why? So these adolescents will be available in larger numbers to conduct large so-called nation-building military operations. You know, like we are trying to do in Iraq.

Second, logic isn't a strong suit of these folks. Earlier on they say the need to fight in urban environments reduces the value of fancy weapons technology and requires more troops. Sounds like they want bigger forces for doing occupations of other countries. But then they zig and zag and end up arguing that we need a bigger military so that we do not actually need to use it. Maybe in their imaginations it is our ability to do democracy-building nation-building invasions that will give our diplomats the ability to credibly threatened the Saddam Husseins of this world so that they'll presumably impose democracy on themselves.

I am curious to know which countries the Times editors would have us scare into their own internal nation-building programs. Just what will we need to do against which particular countries? Force the Saudis to let women drive and vote? Or maybe scare African governments into being less than totally corrupt and incompetent?

Major avoidable debacles should at least teach us useful lessons. I'm afraid that Iraq hasn't taught the editorial board of the New York Times anything useful.

By Randall Parker    2007 March 20 08:12 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2006 September 26 Tuesday
Most Military Reservists Make More When Called Up

Most US reservists make more in the military than they do in the private sector.

Most U.S. military reservists see their earnings increase when they are called to active duty, contrary to the common belief that the earnings of reservists fall when they are activated, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The study by the nonprofit research organization, titled “Activation and the Earnings of Reservists,” examined reservists who served less than 30 days on active duty in 2000 and more than 30 days in 2002 and 2003. It found that:

  • 83 percent of reservists did not lose earnings when activated. Only 17 percent experienced a drop in earnings.
  • The average earnings of the activated reservists increased by 32 percent – amounting to $13,539.
  • 6 percent of activated reservists had an earnings loss of more than $10,000. A total of 11 percent had an earnings loss of more than 10 percent of their previous year's earnings.

“Typically, these reservists are people in their mid 20s to mid 30s, with some college but not necessarily a bachelor's degree,” said David Loughran, a RAND economist and lead author of the study. “Generally, military pay is quite good for this group. Moreover, reservists receive additional special pay when activated and their earnings are not subject to federal taxes.”

The study also finds that 40 percent of reservists who were not activated in the period studied experienced an earnings loss as civilians. Since only 17 percent of activated reservists experienced an earnings loss during the study period, this finding suggests that being activated actually reduces the likelihood a reservist will experience an earnings loss.

“We tend to think of the civilian labor market as relatively static, but it's incredibly dynamic,” said Jacob Klerman, a RAND senior economist and co-author of the study. “Sometimes people earn more from one year to the next, but sometimes people see their earnings drop from one year to another.”

The preliminary version of this study does not accout for higher costs due to being sent abroad. A woman whose husband gets sent to Iraq can't use him to babysit the kids while she works or to get him to fix things around the house. So his absence creates additional costs. Still, I find these results surprising. Does the average reservist make more or less than the average non-military person of the same age in the private sector?

By Randall Parker    2006 September 26 10:31 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2005 July 08 Friday
US Death Rate In Afghanistan Doubles

Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe reports on a doubling of US soldier death rates in Afghanistan in the first half of 2005.

WASHINGTON -- This year has been the deadliest for US troops in Afghanistan since war began in late 2001, as more American soldiers have died than in each of the previous three years, according to military figures. The statistics signal that well-armed Taliban and Al Qaeda militants holed up in caves, tribal villages, and craggy peaks along the border with Pakistan will remain a threat to the new Afghan government for years and require US troops, now numbering 18,000, to remain indefinitely, according to regional specialists. In the first half of this year, at least 54 Americans lost their lives, compared with 52 in all of last year, according to official statistics reviewed by the Globe.

Did the shift of US intelligence and special forces and other military assets away from Afghanistan into Iraq give the Taliban and Al Qaeda a better chance to regroup? Is the higher casualty rate in Afghanistan a reflection of neglect caused by the Iraq war? Or was the resurgence of the Taliban based on Pakistan inevitable in any case?

Some military sources say the higher casualty rate comes from a higher number of US military patrols into more remote locations.

Military officials and Afghan specialists say the rise in attacks is partly because of a more aggressive US and Afghan strategy to flush out remaining pockets of Taliban fighters and their Al Qaeda allies who used Afghanistan as a training base throughout the 1990s. In the first year of the US occupation, the United States maintained a military presence of only about 8,000 troops; it now has 18,000 troops and has expanded the number of patrols and community reconstruction teams to more remote areas where the Taliban is believed to operate.

But the article goes on to state that improvised explosive devices (IEDS) usage is way up and more attacks are being launched by the Taliban and their allies. The article also claims more support for the Taliban is coming from Pakistan.

The 78 Americans killed in Iraq in June 2005 nearly equalled the 80 killed in May. The death toll there shows no sign of decreasing. Arguments that the insurgents have responded to the hardening of US targets by shifting their attention toward Iraqi forces and Iraqi civilians miss the obvious point that US casualty rates have not declined. Therefore the increase in deaths of Iraqi military, police, government officials, and civilians come on top of a continued high level of deaths of American soldiers. This means the insurgency in Iraq has become more effective.

The US military is overstretched trying to handle both Afghanistan and Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2005 July 08 04:44 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
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