Much news has been made recently about recently released statistics by the Chicago Police Department, which shows that the United States’ third largest city had 762 homicides in 2016. The numbers are stunning, but even more so for one who had been actively following U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have consumed much of the nation’s focus for the last 15 years (since September 11, 2001).
I could not help but think of how homicide rates in Chicago might compare with U.S. combat related deaths in the nation’s two major recent (and seemingly ongoing) wars.
While many in the U.S. have expressed a lot of well warranted concern about the deaths of U.S. servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade and a half, comparatively less concern has been expressed for an even greater (in terms of total numbers) tragedy taking place at home among U.S. civilians.
Indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Defense casualty figures, there were 4,424 U.S. deaths as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003 to 2010), 73 additional deaths that resulted from Operation New Dawn (2010-2011), and 32 deaths resulting from Operation Inherent Resolve (through December of 2016) for a total of 4,529 U.S. deaths in Iraq related to the war. In operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan only) from 2001 to 2014 there were 2,216 U.S. deaths and 33 more during Operation Freedom Sentinel (through December 30, 2016). Both wars combined resulted in 6,778 total U.S. deaths.
In Chicago, the annual homicide rate each year since 2001 is as follows.
2001- 667 homicides
2002- 656 homicides
2016- 762 homicides
Total homicides in Chicago since 2001, when the U.S. first went to war in Afghanistan (and then later Iraq in 2003) total 8,384.
U.S. deaths in Chicago = 8,384 vs. the war-zones of Afghanistan & Iraq = 6,778
8,384 vs. 6778
There are, of course, other factors that should be considered here. My quick calculation above only considers total numbers and not percentages of the total population groups. The 2016 murder rate in Chicago of 762 deaths is out of a city population of more than 2,719,000 people, whereas the U.S. has not had that many U.S. military personal serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. Thus, the murder rate of Americans per 100,000, for example, would be lower in Chicago than in Afghanistan/Iraq.
Additionally, there have been additional U.S. deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 if we include (and we should) civilian military contractor deaths, but even these numbers added to the military deaths would not elevate the total number above Chicago’s total deaths. Wikipedia’s casualties page on the war in Afghanistan (updated through October of 2016) lists 2,386 U.S. military deaths, but also includes 1,173 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities, for a total of 3,359 total U.S. deaths. In another total Wikipedia lists 4,497 total U.S. deaths in Iraq as well as 257 U.S. civilian contractor deaths in Iraq since 2003 for a total of 4,754. If you add the Wiki based 4754 figure for Iraq to the Wiki based 3,359 figure for Afghanistan (both including U.S. civilian contractor deaths) then you get a total of 8,113 killed, which is still a lower number than Chicago at 8,384 homicides over the same time period. So even adding in the higher numbers (including U.S. contractor deaths) for Iraq and Afghanistan, Chicago’s homicide toll still has both wars (combined) beat in terms of total U.S. deaths.
Also, Chicago (or at least much of it) does not feel like a war zone. I recently had the opportunity to visit the city and spent much of my time walking around and visiting the famous attractions and enjoyed my time there. But of course I kept to the safer areas that most tourists might frequent, which the city keeps safe compared to more violent neighborhoods, where the situation is quite different.
Moreover, the total numbers of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are not the only deaths in those places, as is the case in Chicago. Obviously, far larger numbers of non-Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan have died over the last 15 years than just the figures I give for Americans. So in total deaths, not just U.S. deaths, Iraq and Afghanistan have proven to be far more deadly places. My calculations above only consider how the wars have impacted U.S. lives (in particular) in comparison to homicide rates in Chicago.
Regardless, however we consider the figures, the number of Americans murdered in Chicago still tops U.S. deaths during the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan over the same time period.
Addendum: After writing up this blog post, I realized my thinking on this was not unique, as others have made the same comparison of Chicago with Iraq/Afghanistan. Niall McCarthy at Forbes.com had made a similar comparison in September of 2016 when Chicago reached 500 murders and includes a useful graph/visual. Yet I suppose my post has more recent figures, considers more than one source for its figures, factors in U.S. civilian contractors, and provides a bit more detail, so I will keep it posted.