Sunday, January 08, 2006

Armoring Troops: The Rest of the Story

According to a "secret Pentagon study" obtained by the New York Times, expanded body armor would have saved the lives of U.S. servicemen. In studying 93 fatal wounds, the Pentagon concluded that 74 of them could have been saved if body armor had been extended.

This story was reported prominently in the NYT, and the NYT editorial page today uses this a basis for lambasting the government for sending in troops unprotected. It also reports that soldiers have been clamoring for more sets of this ceramic armor, but the armor is not reaching them.

Today's Omaha World Herald contains another report -- on page 11A -- suggesting there are differences of opinion among the soldiers about the benefits of this armor. Wearing ceramic plates are not exactly comfortable, and they reduce mobility. As one army captain explained: "If you cover your entire body in ceramic plates, you're just not going to be able to move". Another opined that more armor would increase chances of getting killed. If he were not required to wear the armor, he would prefer to go without due to increased mobility. Interestingly, some also suggest a certain trust in Providence or Fate: if it's your time, then no amount of armor would save you.

It is troubling to find the "rest of the story" reported deep in the news section of another paper, while the finger-wagging story gets editorial preference. But then again, this is the NYT. We should be skeptical. Can the delight of making the Bush Administration look bad really outweigh the wellbeing of our troops? I don't know whether the armor is a good thing or not, but the views of those on the ground using it should get considerable weight.

Safety efforts have been known to ignore critical facts about the real world. (The situation of arguing for car seats on aircraft comes to mind as potentially analogous. Though one could fret about the fate of a child being tossed about during a crash because he was held on the lap of a parent, the risk of death is actually far greater if the child travels by car instead due to the incremental cost imposed for another airline ticket.)


P.S. My pal "Scratchy Throat" tells me that the AP story reporting the soldier's uncertainties about armor, which I read in the Omaha World Herald was also reported in the New York Times. Thanks, S.T.

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