I found this article last week and thought it was worth a mention:
But a comparative analysis of U.S. casualty statistics from Iraq tells a different story. After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966 – and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today’s grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia.
Economists like to quote statistics in “constant dollars,” where they factor in historical inflation rates to produce statistics that allow for side-by-side comparison. Warfare is more complex than macroeconomics, but it is possible to produce a similar “apples to apples” comparison for casualties across conflicts. In a recent article for the New England Journal of Medicine, Atul Gawande (a former Slate contributor) concluded that improvements to military medicine since Vietnam have dramatically reduced the rate at which U.S. troops die of wounds sustained in combat. The argument follows a 2002 study that tied improvements in U.S. civilian trauma medicine to the nation’s declining murder rate. While firearm assaults in the United States were rising, the murder rate was falling, largely because penetration wounds that proved fatal 30 years ago were now survivable. Thus, today’s murder rate was artificially depressed in comparison to the 1960s.
Gawande applied the same methodology to U.S. casualty statistics in previous wars, arriving at a “lethality of wounds” rate for each conflict. In World War II, 30 percent of wounds proved deadly. In Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War, this rate hovered between 24 percent and 25 percent. But due to better medical technology, doctrinal changes that push surgical teams closer to the front lines, and individual armor protection for soldiers, this rate has dropped to 10 percent for Operation Iraqi Freedom for all wounds. For serious wounds that keep a soldier away from duty for more than 72 hours, the mortality rate is now 16 percent. Simply, a soldier was nearly 1.5 times more likely to die from his wounds in Vietnam than in Iraq today.