Limbaugh touted NY Sun columnist's misleading statistics on Iraq war deaths

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

In a February 20 column in The New York Sun headlined "Heroes and Cowards," Alicia Colon wrote that every American military death in Iraq -- she put the death toll at 3,133 -- "is blazoned in the headlines of newspapers and Internet sites," while those numbers are "never compared [to] the number of military deaths during the Clinton administration: 1,245 in 1993; 1,109 in 1994; 1,055 in 1995; 1,008 in 1996." Adding those four numbers up, Colon concluded: "That's 4,417 deaths in peacetime but, of course, who's counting?" Rush Limbaugh repeated Colon's claims on the February 21 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show. But in making her comparison, Colon ignored the deaths of American military personnel in situations other than hostile action (accident, illness, etc.) during the Bush years, even though non-hostile deaths accounted for nearly all the deaths she noted during the Clinton years.

In fact, military deaths have increased year-over-year since Bush first took office in 2001 -- both in raw terms and as a percentage of the total number serving -- and have increased dramatically since the beginning of the Iraq war.

As indicated by the table below, which was reconstructed from figures provided by the Department of Defense, the rate of U.S. military personnel lost per 100,000 serving rose significantly under Bush, from a low point of 50.0 in 2000, Clinton's last full year in office, to 110.2 during 2004. Additionally, the total number of deaths under Bush is not, as Colon's misleading comparison suggested, 3,133 versus 4,417 under Clinton's first term. The number 3,133 represents only deaths in Iraq since the start of the war and does not reflect total military fatalities. In fact, according to the Department of Defense, total military deaths during Bush's first term totaled 5,187, compared with 4,302 under Clinton's first term. The Iraq war began in March 2003.

Colon's numbers, calculated by the Washington Headquarters Services Directorate for Information Operations and Reports, are slightly but consistently higher than those used here, which were calculated by Defense Manpower Data Center's Statistical Information Analysis Division. The numbers provided by Colon are in a document (PDF) available at the Department of Defense military casualty information website. However, this document provides figures only through 1999. Other documents, available at the same DoD website, offer statistics through 2004, allowing a comparison with part of the Bush presidency. Those more comprehensive numbers were used for this table. The PDF reflecting deaths per 100,000 service members is here. Another providing the raw numbers is here.

Year

Total serving

Total deaths

Total deaths/ 100K serving*

Hostile deaths/ 100K serving

1993

1,849,537

1,213

65.6

n/a

1994

1,746,482

1,075

61.6

n/a

1995

1,661,928

1,040

62.5

n/a

1996

1,613,675

974

60.4

0.1

1997

1,578,382

817

51.8

n/a

1998

1,538,570

827

53.8

n/a

1999

1,525,942

796

52.2

n/a

2000

1,530,430

758

50.0

n/a

2001

1,552,096

891

57.4

0.2

2002

1,627,142

999

61.4

1.1

2003

1,732,632

1,410

81.4

19.9

2004

1,711,916

1,887

110.2

43.1

Non-hostile deaths can include those caused by accident, illness, homicide, suicide, terrorist attack, or other undetermined causes.

On the February 21 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh repeated Colon's claims, though incorrectly using the term "casualties" -- which, by military definition, covers all who are dead, wounded, or otherwise lost to the organization -- to refer only to the number killed: "The point here is -- is that we're fighting the Iraq war with lower casualties than casualties expected from training accidents during peacetime."

The Sun column was noted by Salon's War Room weblog as well as blogger Andrew Sullivan.

* The number of deaths/100,000 serving was calculated by multiplying the number of total casualties by 100,000 and dividing that figure by the total number serving in that year according to Defense Manpower Data Center numbers. Results were rounded to the closest one-tenth.

From the February 20 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: There's an interesting story today -- or column -- well, it's a story. It's in The New York Sun. It's by Alicia Colon, and it's entitled "Heroes and Cowards," but here's the interesting paragraph.

"The total military dead in the Iraq war between 2003 and this month stands at about 3,133. This is tragic, as are all deaths due to war, and we are facing a cowardly enemy unlike any other in our past that hides behind innocent citizens. Each death is blazoned in the headlines of newspapers and internet sites. What is never compared is the number of military deaths during the Clinton administration."

Would you like to hear the totals? In 1993 there were 1,245 military deaths. In 1994, 1,109 military deaths. In 1995, 1,055 military deaths. 1996, 1,008.

"That is 4,417 deaths in peacetime but, of course, who's counting?"

Now you might wonder, well, she doesn't cite the source of these figures. But we found them. There's a Department of Defense PDF file on death rates that you can download. I went to download it. I got it and then subsequent attempts after that, the site was either down or it was -- it was locked and loaded. The point here is, of course, these 4,417 deaths between 1993 and 1996 - those are deaths in peacetime. Those are, for the most part, accidental deaths.

More deaths -- and you've heard people say this. I just wanted to get this out there, and on the record. More deaths in four years of the Clinton administration due to military accidents than deaths in Iraq. And if you look at this PDF, you will find that in 1980, which was the last year of the Carter administration, there were more -- I mean, far more military deaths in 1980 than in any year of the Bush administration. The death rate was also higher, and you know, there was -- that's because of differences in the care given to training and standards and so forth.

The point here is -- is that we're fighting the Iraq war with lower casualties than casualties expected from training accidents during peacetime. And I mention this just to show you how out-of-proportion and agenda-oriented the death count in Iraq is. Now, we've mentioned this before as a matter of theory and prophecy. But here it is -- here it is documented. It's -- and these numbers are available to anybody. Any journalist could go to the Department of Defense site, and take a look, and find these numbers. There's no interest on the part of any journalist to do so. Because it would confound the agenda and the purpose of tallying up these deaths. Because these 3,133 deaths form the basis, do they not, of -- "We've got to get out of there! Why, this is out of control! Why, 3,133 battlefield -- whoa! This is horrible! We -- we support the troops! We've got to get them out of harm's way in a pointless, unjust war!" Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. When, in fact, this was is rather successful in terms of the number of deaths versus -- especially when you compare it to the number of troops who have been deployed.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
The New York Sun
Person
Rush Limbaugh
Show/Publication
The Rush Limbaugh Show
Stories/Interests
Attacks on Bill Clinton, Propaganda/Noise Machine
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