Back to the (adjusted) future

Writing for Slate, Phillip Carter and Owen West argue that, in terms of casualties, Iraq in 2004 looks like Vietnam in 1966. The fact that more than 6,000 U.S. servicemen were killed in Vietnam that year, compared to about 900 in Iraq this year, is no impediment to Carter and West. If one adjusts for the fact that we had nearly three times as many troops in Vietnam as we have in Iraq and for the fact that wounds tend to be less lethal now due to technological (body armor?) and medical advances and for the fact that virtually no pilots were killed in Iraq this year, one can reduce the 6-1 difference in fatalities to about 3-2.
But what sense does it make to engage in these contortions? Carter and West say they want to refute the notion that casualties in Iraq are “light.” But who is referring to them in that way? The authors cite an old news story in the Telegraph in which a U.S. general stated that casualties during two days of fighting in Fallujah were “light,” a claim that is consistent by the facts set forth in the story (10 Americans killed in two days of intense fighting). I don’t know of anyone who is saying that, overall, our casualties in Iraq are “light.”
Thus, Carter and West seem to be creating a straw man for the purpose of drawing a specious analogy to Vietnam. Sure, if the war in Iraq were three times its actual scope, and being fought in a jungle 38 years ago it would look a lot like Vietnam. By the same token, if the public can be made to feel about our effort in Iraq the same way it felt about the war in Vietnam, then perhaps our retreat from the former will look a lot like our retreat from the latter.


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