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War Bonds

In November 2005, James Moody was listening to National Public Radio when he heard a listener remark that it’s impossible to calculate how many Americans know someone killed in Iraq. The Duke University sociologist begged to differ. We could know [that number], he thought. Using established estimates for the size of social networks — extended ...

In November 2005, James Moody was listening to National Public Radio when he heard a listener remark that it’s impossible to calculate how many Americans know someone killed in Iraq. The Duke University sociologist begged to differ. We could know [that number], he thought.

Using established estimates for the size of social networks — extended family, friends, and acquaintances — Moody created an online calculator that measures the social reach of the war on terror. He estimates that between 5.4 and 8.2 million Americans know someone killed or wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan as of late March 2007. He also estimates that between 9.3 and 12.7 million Iraqis know someone killed by U.S. forces or insurgents since 2003.

"We tend to think of these [deaths and injuries] as singular events," says Moody. "But each person is connected to other people, so a ripple effect spreads through society." That can influence whether American support for military action continues to plummet, or whether Iraqis and Afghans are drawn to resistance movements in greater numbers.

And it may explain the lack of widespread war protests in the United States. Because, for all the talk of quagmires, Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly taking on Vietnam-level proportions in their social reach. Moody’s estimates suggest nearly 25 percent of Americans in 1975 knew someone killed or seriously wounded in the Vietnam War. To reach that scale today, at least 250,000 more U.S. troops would have to die or be wounded. And that is a calculation Americans may find impossible to accept.

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