War Propaganda Found in my Inbox

I got this forwarded e-mail
from a well-intended friend
who supports the war in Iraq:

Interesting Thought for the day:

If you consider that there have been an average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theater of operations during the last 22 months, and a total of 2112 deaths, that gives a firearm death rate of 60 per 100,000.

The rate in Washington D.C. is 80.6 per 100,000. That means that you are about 25% more likely to be shot and killed in our Nation's Capitol, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, than you are in Iraq.

Conclusion: We should immediately pull out of Washington D.C.

Hmmm… That’s a very interesting statistic… But it seemed fishy to me for a number of reasons.

Since I’m not an expert on statistics, I enlisted one of my best friends, Matt Robinson (no relation), to help. Matt has his Masters degree in statistics and is now teaching stats at a local college. By the way, Matt has no axe to grind--he does not share all my criticism of President Bush and he is more supportive of the war than I am. He was, however, dismayed by the poor use of the statistics in this e-mail.

Here is a list of the misleading information that I want to point out in this e-mail's war propaganda:

1. The statistics are wrong for Washington DC.

The Washington DC annual murder rate cited is misleading, in that the author cites a number that dates all the way back to 1991. Since then (when the 482 murders in DC dubbed the city “The Murder Capital”), the homicide rate has dropped every year to a number significantly lower. During the time of the current Iraq War, the numbers have been 248 in 2003, and 198 in 2004 (with 190 so far in 2005).

So, averaging the numbers of 2003 and 2004 (223), and then dividing that number into the US Census Bureau’s 2004 population estimate of DC (553,523), we get a murder rate of 40.3 per 100,000 (223/553,523=.00040287 x 100,000 = 40.287).

BOTTOM LINE: DC’s homicide rate in the years of the Iraq War (not including 2005, which would make this number even lower) is 40.3 per 100,000, not the 80.6 that was reported (thanks, at least in part, to the strict gun laws in that city).

2. The number of months for the war is wrong.

The war is not just 22 months old. The war started on March 20, 2003. I received this e-mail on December 9, 2005. That means the war had been running for 32 months, not 22.

3. The mathematics of arriving at a “per 100,000” in Iraq number is wrong.

The standard way of arriving at a “per 100,000” is to take the number of deaths per year and divide that by the total population of that group in that year. For instance, the Washington death rate in 1991 was 80.6 per 100,000. That is arrived at by taking the number of murders in that year and dividing it by the total population of the city in that year (482 / 602,500 = 80 deaths per 100,000).
This is NOT done on a monthly basis, for this dramatically lowers the number by a factor of 12. If we divided the number of deaths in DC by 12 months, we’d get 40.166 deaths per month. If we divided that number by the total population, we’d get a much lower death rate of 6.667 per 100,000 (482 / 12 = 40.166 / 602,500 = .000666655).

The author’s numbers are therefore short by a factor of 12. His math looks like this:
2,112 troops killed / 22 months = 96 deaths per month.
96 avg. deaths per month / 160,000 avg. troop population per month = 60 deaths per 100,000 per month.

But this is not how a “per 100,000” number is found! Again, the standard is to take the number of deaths per year and divide that by the total population of that group in that year. The actual numbers look like this:
2,112 troops killed / 32 months = 66 deaths per month. That amounts to 792 deaths per year. To arrive at a “per 100,000” number, we divide deaths per year by population (792 / 160,000 = 0.00495) and then multiply that by 100,000. That makes for a 495 per 100,000 death rate among our troops!!

BOTTOM LINE: So, to correct the author’s first point, the number of American war casualties (what he called, the “firearm death rate” is actually 495 per 100,000, dramatically larger than the 60 per 100,000 he claimed.

4. The number of Coalition casualties is wrong.

In 32 months, there have been 2113 American troop deaths (not counting the 40 who had already died in December). That’s close enough to the 2112 that the author cited, so we’ll give him that one. But there have been a total of 2,314 total Coalition casualties in those 32 months. For some reason (probably because this is an argument against American withdraw from the war), the author did not include the deaths of our Coalition allies. This is rather jingoistic and dishonoring to the 201 men and women from other countries who have given up their lives in this war. Coalition forces from other countries number around 23,000.

So, when we include all coalition forces killed in the war, our number of deaths in Iraq actually drops (2,314 / 32 months = 72.3125 deaths per month x 12 months = 867.75 per year. 867.75 / 183,000 troops = 0.0047418).

BOTTOM LINE: The number of total Coalition troop deaths is actually 474.18 per 100,000.

5. The statistics are manipulatively misleading for Iraq.

Think about it. Whoever chose these statistics did this slight of hand:
Instead of looking at the total number of deaths in Iraq, they chose only the number of deaths of American troops. That would be like saying, “Washington DC has about 5,770 in its two police forces (including the DC Metropolitan Police and US Capitol Police), but only two police officers were killed there in 2004, so the murder rate in Washington DC was only 34.66 per 100,000!” Of course, that would be nonsense and nobody would put up with it. The real murder rate is 40.3 per 100,000 for the past two years (and 80.6 in 1991) because that’s based on how many civilians were murdered in those years.

So, in order to compare apples to apples, we need to know how many Iraqi civilians have been killed because of the current war. These statistics are enshrouded in mystery, but the estimates have that number, according to Reuters, is somewhere between 27,295 and 30,789. The total population of Iraq is 24,683,313.

If we take the lower estimate of civilian deaths caused by the war, divide that by the number of months of the war, we get an average of the number of civilian deaths per month (27,295 / 32 = 852.96875 deaths per month). That amounts to 10,235.625 deaths per year (852.96875 x 12 months = 10,235.625). We can now arrive at the deaths per 100,000 for Iraqi civilians (10,235.625 / 24,683,313 = 0.00041467) That’s a civilian death rate for the entire country of Iraq of 41.467 per 100,000.

And, please remember, that the statistic on the war-related deaths in Iraq is based on the total population of Iraq, not just the most violent cities of Iraq. Again, to compare apples to apples, that 41.467 per 100,000 number should be compared to the total murder rate in the United States—which is 5.5 per 100,000.

Again, if we are to compare apples to apples, the Red Cross estimates that at least 800 civilians were killed during the U.S. military siege of Fallujah in November of 2004. The population of Fallujah was around 350,000. That makes for a death rate of 228.57 per 100,000 in 2004 for Fallujah. Now compare THAT with the 40.3 in Washington DC!

BOTTOM LINE: The number of deaths in this e-mail inextricably excludes the civilians in Iraq who have lost their lives.

6. As an American in Iraq, your chance of dying is over 12 times higher than dying in Washington DC.

The probability of an American civilian in Washington DC to lose his or her life is 40.3 per 100,000. The probability of an American soldier in Iraq to lose his or her life is 495 per 100,000.

So, if we divide 495 by 40.3, we get 12.2828.

BOTTOM LINE: The author claimed that "you are about 25% more likely to be shot and killed in our Nation's Capitol" than in Iraq. The truth is closer to this: You are about 1,228% more likely to be shot and killed in Iraq than in the Nation's Capitol.

7. The Christian call in the world is promote PEACE, not to cooperate with those who would promote WAR.

As I wrote during Christmas week, Christ is the Prince of Peace, and Jesus makes it clear that his followers are called the "children of God" when they participate in his peacemaking.

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (-Jesus, quoted in Matthew 5:8, NLT)

I know that this war is a very complicated issue, and that the implications of "pulling out too early" are grave.

However, in our attempts to figure out what we are supposed to do, let's get the facts straight, let's not manipulate statistics to make our case, and (especially for Christians) let's begin our discussions with the presupposition that our Christian mandate is to create PEACE and not WAR. We Christians need to begin there in our discussions about this war.

Bottom Line: There are a lot of reasons not to pull out of Iraq too soon, but this e-mail's reasoning is just plain wrong.



Marcguyver said...

I still think we've done an incredible job considering the extremely "low" death rate overall; compare it to the over 4,000 deaths that occurred in the Normandy landings of WWII in just one morning!

I must say thought that I was quite impressed with your work on this article.

Marcguyver said...

By the way, I enjoyed your scripture reference (Matthew 5:8) and thought I'd post a few more that are relevant:

Luke 22:36 And He said to them, "But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one."

2 Samuel: "He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support...He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze...I pursued my enemies and destroyed them, and I did not turn back until they were consumed. And I have devoured them and shattered them, so that they did not rise; and they fell under my feet...They looked, but there was none to save; even to the Lord, but He did not answer them.

Anonymous said...

The conclusion was right.
We should demand a pull out from DC. If the fake Christians who are there now left, things would undoubtedly get better here in the US.

I personally don't get the point of the preceding useage of Scripture by marcguyver--I do hope that they are not believed to be prooftexts for a "biblical" pro-war position.

That would be sad, simplistic and disappointing.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

I quite enjoyed this post! Though, in the end, death toll is not the pressing reason to pull out of Iraq. Not mention, going in the first place isn't addressed in the stats (wink).

Thanks again!

Jamie Arpin-Ricci

ER said...

Not to defend the email, but the phrase "firearm deaths" might be the key to understanding the email. Since I haven't received it and don't know who wrote it I have no way to actually check it out, but it is worth a mention.

Anonymous said...

republicans hate the troops almost as much as I do, I just want to spit on them here, not in the sandy wastelands of southwest asia

Bob Robinson said...


I don't know how the phrase "firearms deaths" can be the "key to understanding the email."

The e-mail author cited what is known as the "Homicide Count" in Washington DC as a "firearms death rate." That is also misleading, for those people in DC were murdered in many different ways, not just by guns.

This e-mail is just one of those hawkish right-wing propaganda ploys.

And to make it very sad, this kind of stuff gets forwarded by conservative Christians without checking the facts, because it SOUNDS plausible and because it backs what they want to believe about the war.

And the reason it caught my eye is because I had heard something very similar to this on conservative talk radio a few months ago.

Marcguyver said...

Well, quite frankly yes, I do feel that the aforementioned scripture does lend credit to one's ability to not only defend themselves but also partake in a just war while still naming the name of Christ.

I wouldn't stand for someone breaking down my front door tonight to abuse, rape, or murder my wife or children and I would have no problem blasting them right back out the door or window they came in if I was lucky enough to gain the upper hand and do so.
And to me, If I wouldn't stand for it in my home, then I won't stand for it in my community, my state, or my country, and I see nothing wrong with aiding and/or defending other human beings in other nations as well.

And personally, I still think I'd feel safer back in my old unit in the Corps over in Iraq then I would wondering the streets of New York at 2:00 am.

lyricano said...

Even if one believes that the politics of Jesus lead to a Just War position, the current (undeclared) war in Iraq utterly fails to satidfy Just War criterion. With due respect to marcgyver's passion, it is precisely that emotion that leads to sloppy thinking that justifies preemptive war because one is justified in using nonlethal force to stop a hypothetical sexual assault.

Bob Robinson said...


Lyricano brings up the Just War theory. I think that maybe you're operating under the presumption that I am a strict pacificist. I am not. Though I admitedly sometimes lean towards pacifism, I actually hold to a Just War ethic.

At the beginning of this war, I actually spoke in my church about Christian Just War.

Check it out:
A Christian View of War

Please read this, and let me know what you think.

lyricano said...

In your "war" essay, you are correct (in terms of historic christian political philosophy) to distinguish between personal ethics and the responsibility of governments. Augustine (the orginator of "just war"), said that Christians could never kill in order to protect propoerty or even their own lives. But he does believe that governments have other obligations--among them the need to maintain peace. From this obligation of government to maintain peace Augustine develops the principles of just war.

On you Who Would Jesus Bomb question: If one is to take the Jesus as Righteous Warrior passages as an endorsement of War, then it would seem also to require that in order to go to war one must first carry a sword in mouth and ride horses dressed in linen. If one opts for a allegorical reading of the passage, then it no longer is an endorsement of Jesus bombing Bagdad.

Marcguyver said...

So, I'm working the street and see some guy walking around your property at night and have knowledge that he is an ex-boyfriend of your wife's and has recently threatened to break in and rape her. No crime is committed yet, so should I get out of the car and talk with him or just keep driving and wait for the 911 Call?

Bob, I read your article; although i'll be honest and say it was too lengthy for me to get through to page two.

You've made some very articulate points and I hope that we can have some open dialogue on this issue; and quite possibly that I might even change some of my opinions and beliefs on this subject.

So.....with that in mind, are we allowed to defend ourselves? If so, what about others? If so, what about other humans, here or abroad?

bruce y. said...

Hey Bob,
You're arguing nobily, but point #3 is wrong. Here is my math:
160,000 troops per month; 2,300 deaths total; 32 months total.
2,300 deaths / 32 months = apr. 72 deaths per month. 72 deaths per month / 160,000 troops per month = .00045 deaths per 100,000. The ratio stays the same regardless of whether it's a month or a year. If you want to turn it into one year, then 72 deaths per month = 864 total that year. But you also have to multiply the 160,000 troops there per month by 12, because there was that much potential to be killed (1,920,000 troops). So the ratio is the same, 864/1,920,000=0.00045.

Bob Robinson said...

Bruce Y,

Actually, no.

My statistician friend insisted that the mistake your proposing must not occur.

If, as you propose, you multiply the 160,000 troops there per month by 12 ("because there was that much potential to be killed"), then you'd be counting the population of troops 12 times too many. The per year number must be based on the average population for the entire year, not by multiplying that number by twelve--your counting troops you've already counted.

Using your math, the murder rate in Washington DC would decrease dramatically:
The actual DC death rate in 1991 was 80.6 per 100,000. That is arrived at by taking the number of murders in that year and dividing it by the average total population of the city in that year (482 / 602,500 = 80 deaths per 100,000).

The ratio DOES NOT stay the same regardless of whether it's a month or a year. You see, in order to arrive at an "average deaths per year," they do not multiply the average population by 12. If they did that, they would multiply 602,500 x 12 to say that the DC population to divide the number of deaths into should be 7,230,000!

Dividing the 482 deaths into 7,230,000, gives us the wrong average deaths per year of 0.000666666. That's a far cry from the actual number: 80.6 deaths per year!