The Number Is 1.6 Million

According to the Pentagon’s press ops people, accessed via the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, approximately 1.6 million individual troops have served in Afghanistan and Iraq since the beginning of the war in late 01/early 02.

They don’t have readily available separation of those who have actually been in combat roles and those who haven’t.

I’ll call this the ‘golden’ number at this point.

That makes the rate of homicide (given the NYT 121 number) 7.6/100,000.

See AMac’s analysis in the comments here for a good framework to put on this.

The Media Does It Again

Today, the NY Times has the first part of a special series – War Torn:Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles. It appears that the troops are coming home and becoming murderers.

Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, S.D.: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment – along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems – appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

And we’re presented with a litany of tragedy.

But as usual, I keep asking the simple question – well, what does it mean? How do these 121 murderers compare with the base rate of murderers in the population?And the answer appears to be damn well.

The only reference I could find for the number of troops who have served in combat areas was at, citing a Salon article:

Three and a half years have passed since U.S. bombs started falling in Afghanistan, and ever since then, the U.S. military has been engaged in combat overseas. What most Americans are probably unaware of, however, is just how many American soldiers have been deployed. Well over 1 million U.S. troops have fought in the wars since Sept. 11, 2001, according to Pentagon data released to Salon. As of Jan. 31, 2005, the exact figure was 1,048,884, approximately one-third the number of troops ever stationed in or around Vietnam during 15 years of that conflict.

From the October 1, 2001 start of the Afghanistan war, that’s about 26,000 troops/month. To date (Jan 2008) that would give about 1.99 million.

That means that the NY Times 121 murders represent about a 7.08/100,000 rate.

Now the numbers on deployed troops are probably high – fewer troops from 2001 – 2003; I’d love a better number if someone has it.

But for initial purposes, let’s call the rate 10/100,000, about 40% higher than the calculated one.

Now, how does that compare with the population as a whole?

Turning to the DoJ statistics, we see that the US offender rate for homicide in the 18 – 24 yo range is 26.5/100,000.For 25 – 34, it’s 13.5/100,000.

See the problem?

Damn, is it that hard for reporters and their editors to provide a little bit of context so we can make sense of the anecdotes? It’s not in Part 1 of the article. And I’ll bet it won’t be in the future articles, either.

Because it’s not part of the narrative of how our soldiers are either depraved or damaged.

The NY Times Public Editor can be reached at

Department Of (Un?)Intentional Irony

Two things I tagged because they amused me…

From TalkLeft:

Now this is a predictable development as Ben Nelson is the king of bipartisanship, voting with Republicans more than any other Democrat:

Nebraska U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson plans to make an announcement on Saturday morning that his spokesman said has national implications.

Again, the national implications for me are not positive for Obama, they are negative. I am glad that Ben Nelson is a Democrat and coming from Nebraska, I doubt we could get someone better, but Nelson’s views are NOT what I want for the Democratic Party. It wil be interesting to see how Nelson explains his support for Obama. I imagine the reachout unity schtick will be the explanation.

The post was written, of course, by ‘Big Tent Democrat’…

And over at War and Piece:

CounterSpy: Philip Agee dies in Cuba:

… Agee’s actions in the 1970s inspired a law criminalizing the exposure of covert U.S. operatives.

But in 2003, he drew a distinction between what he did and the exposure of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a prominent critic of President Bush’s Iraq policy.

”This is entirely different than what I was doing in the 1970s,” Agee said. ”This is purely dirty politics in my opinion.”

Agee said that in his case, he disclosed the identities of his former CIA colleagues to ”weaken the instrument for carrying out the policy of supporting military dictatorships” in Greece, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

Those regimes ”were supported by the CIA and the human cost was immense: torture, executions, death squads,” he said. …

More here.

Update: A British journalist colleague who covered some of the uglier episodes of Latin American modern history, writes, citing Agee on himself: “‘Why did I denounce the CIA? Because I met and fell in love with a woman who believed Che Guevara was the most wonderful man in the world.’ He leaves it to us to make the obvious deduction — that he tried to imitate him to win her over. It all goes to prove that the Human Factor trumphs all in spying as Graham Greene so brilliantly detailed in his book of the same name. …”

…that’s just perfect…

Diebold, Tawana Brawley, and The Brad Blog

Update: Brad called, and disagrees with the points I’m trying to make, and was deeply unhappy both at the way I characterized him and at the fact that I hadn’t made an effort to contact him before slamming him publicly as I did. He’s wrong, I think, on the substance, and absolutely right on the style. The tone of this post is far more hostile than it should have been, and while I am ‘torqued’ at the way he’s dealing with the issue, and disagree with him pretty substantially, I want to apologize both for not letting him know I thought he was wrong and for the tone I take below. My bad, and I thought I’d learned that lesson. Maybe this time.

I actually have met and personally like Brad of BradBlog; while I might have been on the voting machine issue early, he was tireless in raising awareness on the issue and deserves tons of credit for that.

Now I kind of think he deserves a boot to the head (from the Frantics sketch, folks, calm down). He’s gone off the deep end, suggesting that the difference between polls and results in NH was the result of a Diebold conspiracy. No, really.

I’m not sure why Obama would have conceded so soon, given the virtually inexplicable turn of events in New Hampshire tonight.

What’s going on here? Before proceeding, I recommend you read the third section of the post I just ran an hour or so ago, concerning the way the ballots are counted in New Hampshire, largely on Diebold optical-scan voting systems, wholly controlled and programmed by a very very bad company named LHS Associates.

And, to boot, one of the principals in LHS may have dealt drugs back in 1990 – 18 years ago.

Now I have no idea if LHS is a good company or a bad one (some of the things Brad points out are certainly bad, and the Diebold machines themselves aren’t good news). But it gets my back up a bit when liberals – who ought to believe in rehabilitation – suddenly drag out irrelevant 20-year old history and wave it as a bloody shirt to make an argument.

There’s a better quick test, which is to look at the paper counts vs. electronic (about 25% of NH was on paper) and see if the results differed wildly. Commenter NB over at did just that:

Regarding the fraud hypothesis:

On BradBlog, they link to this page — — which has the vote totals by township, along with the voting method (electronic or paper).

One basic question is whether paper-voting towns produced different results from electronic-voting towns. Of course, town size correlates strongly both with voting method and the Clinton/Obama ratio. So I took the numbers above and did basic matching using the only data I had, total votes, which I presumed correlated with town size, and thus (hopefully) with other important demographic characteristics. That is, I took the 91 towns that voted electronically and matched each one (using matchit in R) with a similarly sized paper-voting town, and then compared the vote percentages for Clinton and Obama in those two populations. The results?

…………….Cl …. Ed .. Ob
Electronic…. 39.2%..17.5%..35.8%
Paper……… 38.5%..18.0%..36.1%

Ie, the two voting types seem to have produced nearly identical results. Of course, more demographic data to match on would be nice, but I think this puts a big burden of proof on the doubters.

Posted by: NB | January 9, 2008 10:58 PM

I’ve gotta call bullshit on this one, and suggest that hysteria like this distracts from and devalues the real problems with voting security as badly as Tawana Brawley and Crystal Magnum distracted from and devalued the real problems of violence against women.

A Hawkish Case For A Democrat – Any Democrat

I’ve been watching the upcoming election with some amusement – I wish I could muster enthusiasm instead – and thinking about how to decide who I’m likely to support.

On a range of domestic issues, I ought to be clearly an Obama supporter; but issues are one thing and competence, experience, and judgment another. And, as ought to be clear to most of the folks who read me with any interest at all, I’ve been willing to put my domestic agenda on hold while we deal with the problem of a hostile movement within a newly powerful Islamic world.

So I sat down and tried to map out the conditions for making a decision based on that one issue. And I came to an interesting hypothesis that I’d like to try out on the hawkish readers here.

It just may be the case that hawkish folks like me would see our policies better off – far better off – with a Democratic president in 2009.OK, go pop a few blood pressure pills and come back so I can explain why.

It starts with my belief that we’re in for a long war. Like the Cold War, I’m hopeful that it will be resolved with few people dying in combat. Very hopeful…

…and like the Cold War, I believe that our opponent both needs to expand for internal reasons, and will ultimately collapse – absent being nuked into oblivion for doing something foolishly violent – for internal reasons. The issue is hanging on long enough for that to happen.

Today, that’s not going to happen; it’s not going to happen because in our toxic political environment, the war has become a Republican war. The Democrats – for domestic political reasons as much as for ideological ones, I believe – see the very real (and typical) fatigue with the war as well as the litany of problems that any war brings with it as a club they can use to beat the Republicans with, and they fully intend to keep using it. The unintended consequence of that division is that the very real enemies we have, both the core of the violent Islamist movement, and more important the larger body of those who are sympathetic or blackmailed into supporting them, see that division and are confident that they are backing the stronger horse.

The recent moves by the Gulf Council to patch things up with Iran are, in this model, largely a product of the bet by the Gulf states that US domestic policy will preclude any aggressive effort to check Iranian power, and that the Iranians see an uncertain US leadership as unable to press them without reckless escalation on their part.

So first, and foremost, we need to be clear that in this contest we are united as we are not today. How best to do that? I’ll get back to that.

There’s another reason that goes with this.

If you’re a hawk, ask yourself – what if we’re wrong?

There’s a problem in interpersonal violence that I think scales well to interstate violence; you usually don’t know for sure in the real world when you’re in a fight until it’s too late. And in making the decision to fight in most circumstances, the risk you take is that you start a fight when there wouldn’t have been one if you’d acted otherwise.

A long time ago, I talked about ‘threat assessment‘:

The best class I have ever seen (although I did not take it) in dealing with this issue is the IMPACT/Model Mugging series. They teach their students to actively interact with potential threats, which allows you to make the determination of risk at a range you select. When I walk up, the IMPACT student is taught to say “Excuse me, but you’re coming too close to me,” and then escalate from there depending on the response. If this were directed at me (affable, but sometimes irritable), I’d back up, and probably shake my head at the oversensitivity and lack of trust in the modern world. The Bad Guy won’t, and that difference in behavior lets you know what you are dealing with.

My role model Clint Smith puts it pretty well: “You better learn to communicate real well, because when you’re out there on the street, you’ll have to talk to a lot more people than you’ll have to shoot, or at least that’s the way I think it’s supposed to work.

I’ve consistently said that we aren’t – yet – in a real war with the nations of the Middle East, and that it would be a profound error to act as if we were. In response to a post here on why we needed to immediately act against Iran, I responded:

Why are we talking in the face of a ticking bomb?

Well, because to quote someone smarter than me, “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ while reaching for a stick.”

While we’re doing that, a few things may happen. The dog may stop growling. We may get a stick.

Or we may get bitten.

I don’t want to get bitten by a dog. But my willingness to risk a dog bite goes up when I’m carrying a gun.

Because I can say with a lot of confidence that the dog will only get one bite.

I’ll add to that some history, from Michael Oren’s ‘Power, Faith and Fantasy,’ which suggests that we’ve had intermittent, low-level conflict with the nations of the Middle East as long as we’ve been around. Clearly it’s a different game today, with higher risks and more connections for both sides. But a level of discomfort and conflict isn’t new. And if it isn’t new, maybe it’s something that we live with, within boundaries – just as we lived with the depredations of the Soviet and Chinese states during the 50’s and 60’s.

So in the face of those who say that Rudy G is in “his prime terrorist-killing years” or that John McCain may be a little old but will still kick some ass, I’d ask this:

First, wouldn’t it be good to have the whole country – or at least much of both parties – lined up on one side when it comes to this conflict? And second, isn’t it reasonable to try to see if we’re really at war or if – note that this isn’t a position I believe in, but it’s one I can see believing in – we’re at risk of causing one?

Obama’s article in Foreign Affairs was, to me, a mess. His faith in negotiation and persuasion is touching, but in my experience negotiation where one side doesn’t see any downside to no negotiated outcome is typically not successful; and the histories of wars past are full of those who – whether negotiating with the Barbary Pirates, the Ottoman Empire, the Nazis, or the Soviets – felt that as long as negotiations were ongoing, regardless of what was happening outside, things were going well. But I believe that even Obama loves this country and is certainly smart enough to change his stance if facts prove him wrong. I cite Obama here not because I’ve decided to support him – I haven’t – but because it’ll be him or Hillary for the D’s, and he is certainly more dovish than she is.

So let’s take a moment and discuss whether – in the context of a generational conflict – we’d be better off strategically if the Democrats won next year.

Andrew Olmsted

I want to write about Andrew Olmsted, but nothing intelligent or useful comes out that hasn’t been said better by others. He was a part of the larger community of Damn Good People I’ve met through blogging – people who I agree with, disagree with, have learned a ton from, and hope maybe to have shown a cheap trick or two. I value that community extraordinarily much, as did Andrew apparently.

I’m assuming you’ve read his post from beyond linked below and found on Hilzoy’s site here; if not, go do it now.

I know I keep asking people to donate to things, but look at it this way – there are a lot of places where a hundred or two $15 checks could make a real difference. And if I can help steer some of those checks, and help some folks pay bills, maybe it’s a part of what I can do as part of in ‘making a tiny dent in history’s Green Monster’ as Andrew put it.

Andrew’s family just suggested that if people want to do something in his memory, they might donate to the children of Capt. Thomas Casey, who was killed coming to Andrew’s aid.

I just sent $50 to

Capt. Thomas Casey Children’s Fund
P.O. Box 1306
Chester, CA 96020

and I’ll match the next $200 that Winds readers send. Put your commitment in the comments below.

Regular blogging will resume later today.