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Body Count is the Wrong Statistic
By Al Wellman
Many of us remember the emphasis on enemy body counts as the primary measure of military success during the Vietnam War. Body count of US soldiers or citizens seems to be the most widely used basis for comparing our nation's losses during historical conflicts, although economists may correlate the rise in national debt to periods of warfare. Economists have been willing to integrate consideration of economic benefits of victory to obtain a more balanced perspective. Perhaps we should similarly consider a broader view of human resources.
Infantry firefights begin with the entire team focused on damaging the enemy; but as soon as members of the team are hit, team focus is distracted by efforts to assist the wounded. The mathematics of team effective strength are minus one for each team member with immediately fatal injuries, and minus two or more for each team member with temporarily disabling wounds requiring medical assistance and transport or protection from enemy fire.
The human resources focus of strategic warfare is similar. Each person killed represents the loss of one effective member of a nation's workforce, while each person disabled is similarly removed from the workforce with the removal of additional members of the workforce from other occupations to assist the disabled. While each death represents a loss through the anticipated productive years until retirement, the requirement for assistance (including care of those with emotional disabilities arising from combat or from the death or disabilities of loved ones) often lasts significantly longer than the duration of hostilities and may extend past retirement through old age. Aside from ignoring perceived responsibility for the collateral damage to civilians on our foreign battlefields, those who advocate overseas warfare to avoid battlefield damage within our borders fail to appreciate the cost-effectiveness of our enemies' strategic objective of sending wounded soldiers home.
Does military emphasis on body armor increase our strategic losses to reduce citizen objections to overseas warfare? Unprotected extremities remain vulnerable while soldiers wear helmets and chest armor. In addition to projectile damage, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) generate shock wave accelerations capable of detaching extremities or inflicting brain injury even when acceleration doesn't sever the spine. What are the long-term consequences of converting battlefield deaths to battlefield survivors with amputated limbs and/or brain injuries?
Most Americans without wounded family members will see and understand less than half of the picture so long as military briefings and news reports focus on death statistics and forget or ignore the rest of the story.
Al Wellman is a Vietnam combat veteran whose nephew and cousin have service related disabilities.