May 23, 2007:
For every hundred American soldiers
in Iraq, there are 89-90 civilians working for the military. The current
increase in combat against terrorists in Iraq has increased the casualty rate
of these civilians. Until this year, the troops had a casualty rate about three
times that of the civilians. But so far this year, the civilian casualty rate
has gone from a third of the military one, to half the military one.
Armies have always had civilians along, to perform
support functions. The historical term is "camp followers." In times past, the
ratio of civilians to soldiers was often much higher, like eight civilians for
every one soldier. Only the most disciplined armies (like the ancient Romans at
their peak), kept the ratio closer to one to one. But when conscript armies
became common in the 19th century, it was suddenly cheaper to replace many of
those civilians with conscripts (who were paid a nominal wage.) Now that armies
are going all-volunteer, it's gone back to the old days, where it's cheaper to
have civilians performa lot of support
It's a lot safer to be a contractor in Iraq, than a
soldier. Only 917 contractors have died there, which means you are three times
more likely to get killed if you are in uniform. Most of these civilian
contractors work in the well defended bases, and most of the contractor
casualties are among those (about a quarter of the total) who do security or
transportation jobs that take them outside the wire. But even those have a
lower casualty rate than the combat troops. For the really dangerous work, the
troops are used. But working in a combat zone is still dangerous, no matter
what your work clothes look like.
Another little discussed (in the mass media) aspect
of casualties in Iraq is that they are much lower than in Vietnam, where you
were more than twice as likely to get hurt in combat. Even with civilian
workers suffering less than half that rate, why take the risk? It's the money.
A year in Iraq pays more than several years of work back home, so recruiting
civilians is no problem.