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      Friday
      Jan072011

      William Polk on Long War Casualties

      Dear Tom,

      Several people have sent me your summary of bad news from Iraq and Afghanistan. Alas, this account is so under-reported as to seem almost good news.

      The money cost is significantly higher than reported here, although scattered throughout the DOD accounts. Even the US Congressional research office, a non-partisan organization with supposedly complete access regardless of level of security classification, told me that they were unable to establish a complete figure.

      The wounded fall in several categories. The superficial or "walking" cases are generally not reported. So they would add a considerable number to the c. 42,000. But even the others cannot be treated just as a lump statistic. Our ambassador in Afghanistan, a retired Army Lt. General, almost wept when he told me of his visits to some Americans who were being more or less secretly evacuated. Some are very long-term "basket" cases. Severely crippled with multiple loss of limbs. They will spend most of their lives in hospitals. Severe head wounds (various forms of concussion) often result in medical treatments, counseling and support in many cases project costs out 20 or more years for estimated totals (in AD 2000 dollars) of about $5 million/person. These wounds are far more common than is realized. In the whole Iraqi campaign, the number has been estimated (the real figures are still unknown) at more than 320,000. I have not seen figures (if they exist) on Afghanistan.

      Even in the very short (usually put at just 100 hours) American invasion of Iraq, wounds and other forms of trauma (often improperly lumped together as PTSD) led to disability claims by about 300,000 returning servicemen and -women.

      Successful suicides as reported here (2001-2010 of 2,129) don't give a complete picture. As of 2008, the head of the mental health division of Veterans Affairs reported that attempted suicides were running at about 1,000 a month. I don't think more recent figures are available. So those who actually succeeded were only a small portion of those who were driven to try.

      And then there is the lingering results of using a form of nuclear weapon, depleted uranium. Incidence of cancer has multiplied and severe defects in fetuses and newborn children are truly horrifying. On these and comparable issues, you can check out my account and sources (although now dated) in my book Violent Politics (pages 204 and 259).

      In short, while the report is dire enough, it is not nearly as dire as the actual happening. And the real casualty in both wars is a combination of our reputation abroad and our institutions and beliefs at home. Of course, we "won" in Iraq -- as the good General Petraeus has told us -- but even he does not claim victory in Afghanistan. There is more to come.

      Bill

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