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How Americans Stack Up In Dying From Violence, War, Suicide, And Accidents

Now some new fodder for the gun-control debate that the horrid events in Connecticut suddenly stirred into a frenzy, though it had been snoozing through the daily drumbeat of murders in Oakland, CA, a few miles across the Bay from me, or in Richmond to the north, or really in any other city. The fodder is inconvenient, however. For both sides of the debate.

The Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council released a troubling book-length report, U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, that dug deeply into various studies and statistics of mortality for the year 2008, and came up with some uncomfortable conclusions—uncomfortable particularly if you’re male and under fifty: not only do Americans live less long than their counterparts in the developed world, but much of the damage happens at a younger age (more of that in the next post).

So the first thing I did was check out the category “deaths from intentional injuries” and its three subcategories, “self-inflicted injuries,” “war,” and “violence.” Grisly statistics, all of them.

As expected, the US has the most violence among the 17 “peer” countries in the study with 6.5 deaths per 100,000. Almost three times the rate of Finland, the next most violent country in the group with 2.2 deaths per 100,000 people, and over 15 times the rate of Japan with 0.43 deaths per 100,000 people. The third most violent country, Canada (1.6), is practically a bastion of safety for those Americans who make it across the border.

The apparently permanent element of US foreign policy, “war,” killed 0.44 Americans per 100,000 in 2008. It killed a lot fewer people in the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and France, and none in the remaining peer countries.

Deaths from self-inflicted injuries are an immense cultural tragedy in Japan—and its literature is replete with it. But the Japanese rate of 19.8 suicides per 100,000 people is not that much worse than that of the Finns (17.7). Americans are in the middle of the pack (10.3). The least suicidal are the Italians (4.5).

Combine the deaths from all intentional injuries—violence, war, and suicide—and the leader of the pack is ... drumroll ... Japan! With 20.2 deaths per 100,000 it is a hair deadlier than Finland (19.9), somewhat deadlier than the US in third place (17.3), but 3.6 times deadlier than the country of the Mafia, Italy, where people are least likely to die of intentional injuries (5.6).

The inconvenient part? Legally owning firearms in Japan is nearly impossible, and few people own them, legally or otherwise. The Japanese commit suicide by other means. And if the Japanese had more violent tendencies toward each other, they’d kill each other at a higher rate by other means, and they’d break the laws more often to own guns to use them against each other. But they don’t.

It’s not the absence of guns that makes the streets of Japan a safer place; it’s the outright refusal of practically all modern Japanese to resort to violence toward each other (they do have murderers or terrorists, just very, very few of them). In America, that attitude isn’t that common. Hence the scourge of violence.

Then there is the category of deaths from “unintentional injuries,” such as traffic accidents, poisonings, falls, fires, or drownings. Every country has its own nightmare, but overall, Finland is the most dangerous place with 38.6 deaths per 100,000. The US is in second place (35.5). The least dangerous? Japan (16.1), Germany (15.4), and the Netherlands (13.7).

Among deaths from unintentional injuries, traffic accidents are still the big killer in America—though the numbers have been cut in half since the 1970s. With 13.9 deaths per 100,000 people, America is significantly more dangerous than next-in-line Portugal (10.0) and 3.6 times more dangerous than Japan (3.8), the safest in the group. Of course, the US is a huge country where a lot of people drive a lot of miles on a daily basis. In Japan, most people—even those who own cars—rely on the vast and gleaming public transportation network to commute or get around, though the traffic on Tokyo’s expressways and the congestion in the streets might tempt you to think otherwise.

Poisonings—unintentional ones, that is!—kill Finns at a rate of 13.9 per 100,000 on par with traffic deaths in the US! Do they eat paint for breakfast? The US is next in line (8.9). By contrast, in Austria almost no one dies of poisoning (0.18). And Finns are just as likely to die from falls (13.9) than from poisoning, with the US (8.9) in second place, while France leads in the big catch-all category, other unintentional injuries (9.3).

The hapless leaders in total deaths from all injuries, intentional and unintentional, are Japan (36.3), France (38.2), then a big jump to the US (52.8), and another jump to number one, Finland (58.5). Deaths from traffic accidents, violence, war, and suicide are more common in the younger years (under 50). One of the clues why much of the damage to Americans’ low life expectancy comes early in life. Another clue is healthcare. More on that in my next post.

There has been anecdotal evidence. But now GE’s quandary confirms it. The consumer has apparently performed a miracle: tackling runaway health-care costs that are taking over the economy and are bankrupting the country. Motive? Profit. Read....  The Consumer Is Putting The Screws To Health-Care Expenses.

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Reader Comments (6)

USA also seem to be the champion in personality disorders. 7.6% vs. 2.4% in Western Europe.

Personality disorders are a very diverse group staying in the borders between self-psychology and social psychology, but have one important thing in common: poor self-care.
Poor self-care is just behind violence to others (homicides), violence to own-self (suicides) or simple disregard of preventive measures (accidents).
January 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKonstantin Kayes
Make this into a infographic.. no lazy to read
January 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJiz Rag Jones
A few months ago I posted on my personal blog an item about war, that began with the following words.

"Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) drives hundreds of soldiers and veterans of today’s Western armies (mainly Americans) to kill themselves, and sometimes their families too. Usually, the suicides come after months of depression and despair; nightmares, fragile nerves and paranoia are common symptoms. Families and old friends watch the victims sink under the burden of bad memories of the atrocities they have seen and done during their overseas deployments.
It may seem a perverse judgment on first reading, but in some degree those suicides represent the hope of mankind. They are our proof that some soldiers retain enough humanity to feel shame and guilt at the things they have been ordered to do, and have done."

The whole little opinion-piece can be read at this link:
January 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGordon Barlow
I went to school ( for a short time) in Washington, D.C. in 1967. Woodrow Wilson High School. They had a ROTC like program there and a Cadet Corp of several hundred male students. These uniformed students drilled with M-1 Garand rifles of the sort GIs carried in WW2. Of course they weren't loaded but there was nothing to prevent a student from bringing some .30 caliber ammo and loading his weapon. No one thought there was any danger with teenage boys parading around with working military rifles at a high school in those days and there wasn't. There were Cadet units in every D.C. high school at the time ( and Woodrow Wilson was the only D.C high school with a majority white student body) so theoretically these high school Cadet units combined comprised a group of 2 or 3 thousand largely black teenagers with more firepower than any police or military force in the capital of the United States! Something to think about when we consider the problem of 'gun control' today.
January 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterscott
I wonder what the rate would be if you separated out drug related violence. I suspect the US numbers would drop quite a bit.
January 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnygeneric
As a Finn I would suspect that under the poisoning category is also alcohol poisoning. As that is a very common cause of death here.
January 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndo

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