Suburban What?

Before I light things up and launch into today’s tirade, I’m going to digress a little bit and try to whack some sense into someone. Susan at Suburban Guerrilla claims to be doing “something a little like journalism.” Well, if you consider finding a bunch of poorly sourced and unverifiable statements and linking then with half-assed speculation journalism, you’re doing journalism all right. What the hell, it works for CBS, right? Oh, yeah, you link to a reprint of their story with a new headline. So you must think CBS is journalism.

Susan’s main point seems to be that more people are coming back from Iraq injured or killed than the “official” casualty statistics show. It’s obviously a huge cover-up or conspiracy and the military is lying to us all! Having read her post and the comments, I can without exception say that none of these people have a fucking clue what they’re talking about.

Here’s a little lesson on how the military looks at things. There are four relevant categories involved in this discussion: Killed In Action, Wounded In Action, Missing In Action, and all others. The first three categories are what the military considers combat casualties. The key there is the phrase “In Action”. This is generally interpreted to mean “in conflict with an armed enemy”. In other words, if people weren’t shooting at you when the bad thing happened, you are not a combat casualty. The numbers for combat casualties are going to be much lower than the overall numbers for casualties in Iraq. This is not a conspiracy. It’s just the way the statistics are defined. You can argue about the way the statistics are reported and what the important numbers are, but it’s not a conspiracy to underreport casualties. Are the overall casualty numbers the important ones? I dunno. Some of the wider casualty numbers undoubtedly are relevant to the larger discussion. Some undoubtedly aren’t. Short of parsing through every single casualty report that comes out of Iraq, it’s impossible to tell. So what happens? The military reports the rough cut by using the combat casualty numbers. Not perfect, but arguably a worthwhile system given the constraints we all operate under.

Susan also seems to think that the military is relatively risk-free aside from people shooting at you. This is most emphatically not the case. As anecdotal evidence, I offer my experience from the 82d Airborne Division in the early 90s. We were promised a 3-day weekend if the division went 82 days without a casualty. We never got one. In peacetime, the 82d cannot go 3 months without someone dying. Think about that for a second. An organization of 15,000 people can’t make it throughout a year without a minimum of 4 deaths. The training tempo was not absolutely furious back then, either. Similarly, does anybody remember the first guy that died during Operation Desert Shield? I do. He was an Air Force Staff Sergeant who got crushed when they were unloading planes. This was about 36 hours into Desert Shield, if my memory serves. This does not count the vast array of injuries short of death that occur on a frighteningly regular basis. The military is a dangerous job and people get killed. Is the fact that a soldier died in Iraq something that matters if he wasn’t shot? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe he would have been in a similar situation in training and died back in the world.

Part of the problem is the nature of the beast. The vast majority of the military is males under the age of 25. This is not a demographic known for sober considered reflection of the risks of undertaking a particular course of action. Add to the already sketchy judgment of young males the indisputable fact that the military is selecting for the more aggressive and adventurous members of the demographic and you begin to grasp the larger problem faced by the military. The military has one of the largest pools of accident-prone young men in the world. They will do stupid shit that gets them injured or killed on a regular basis, no matter where they are. In a situation like Iraq, there are more opportunities for poor judgement from the youths. Should an episode of fatal stupidity be counted as a cost of Iraq? I don’t think so.

Now that I’ve disposed of the substantive issue, let’s talk about sources. It helps to bolster your argument by not citing people that swipe stories from other websites and change the headlines for greater impact. Susan links here for one of her supporting links. It’s a damn shame CBS News didn’t run it like that. The original story is here. I’ll even cut you some slack for citing the “fake but accurate” news team. The credibility of her other sources is even less. Postings on discussion boards? Not buying it as primary source material, sorry. Speculation by advocacy groups that have no hard numbers to back them up isn’t very useful, nor are op-ed pieces exactly what I’m looking for in that regard. If you want to say the numbers are wrong, get some sources that are credible. Don't sit there and whine that you don't like the way the numbers are reported unless you have a clue what the numbers really are and how they should be reported.

I have a few other issues. The CNN story? Doesn’t buttress your argument. In fact, it works against it by showing that DOD is trying to get the numbers right and is checking them to make sure they are. The whole section about journalists? Not relevant to the discussion, sorry.

At this rate, you're not even qualifying as a Suburban Nuisance, much less Guerrilla. You might want to start reading Che, Mao and Kwame instead of the sources you're currently reading. They'll at least give you some insight into "Guerrilla" since you don't have any insight into anything else.


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