Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Poor Die Young

The political posturing and debating engulfing the land is touching on just about everything but the continuing slaughter of young Americans and our allies in Afghanistan. 

I make note of Afghanistan war deaths because this blog honors those from my home state of Michigan who give their lives.  A lot more are not being honored.  Lives are being sacrificed at the rate or more than one per day. Why is there no national outrage about this horrible waste?  At best, our politicians, except for maverick Republican candidate Ron Paul who stands no chance of being elected, are content to let the pointless conflict continue for two more years.

Throughout our recent military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, a few small voices have pointed out that the affluent and best educated  among us are sending the poor and least educated off to die. Several of those voices, which didn’t get much of a hearing, suggested we should restore the draft that was ended after the conclusion of the Vietnam War. The reasoning is that, in a democracy, important sacrifices should be shared by all.

One counter argument, insensitive as it may be, is members of our all-volunteer forces knew what they were getting into when they signed up.  They agreed to put their lives on the line; therefore we have little reason to be overly concerned when they are killed. I have heard such awful statements made by otherwise seemingly caring and thoughtful people.

I also have heard claims that our forces constitute a cross-section of the American public because reserves and National Guard units have been called to active duty frequently during the wars in the Middle East.  The call-ups are a fact.  That they resulted in a cross-section of society being involved in the conflicts is not.  Several analyses of the death counts support the idea of an unfair assignment of risk.

Nine years ago, when the Iraq War was young, a newspaper consultant in Texas studied backgrounds of more than 300 U.S. soldiers who died in the conflict.  The dead were 39 percent more likely that our total population to live in counties with less than 100,000 people.  They were 16 percent more likely to have lived in a county with below-average levels of college graduates and 16 percent more likely to live in counties with below-average incomes.

The dead soldiers who came from large cities were disproportionately Hispanic or African-American.  Very few came from prosperous urban areas—high-tech centers such as San Jose, Seattle, Austin, or Dallas.  Those who died largely grew up in cities with declining older manufacturing economies or in rural regions, places with low levels of technology and innovation and high levels of unemployment.

The consultant who conducted the study concluded: “This may be America’s war, but it is being fought by only a part of America.”

A much larger study (of 3,100 deaths) in 2007 conducted for the Associated Press showed that almost half the American war fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan were young people from small towns and rural areas where employment opportunities were limited.  The half came from towns with populations under 25,000 and 20 percent of them had a hometown where less than 5,000 people lived.

The study report said, “Many of the hometowns of the war dead aren’t just small in population, they’re poor.” Nearly three-quarters of those killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average.”

With Iraq behind us and warfare in Afghanistan allegedly winding down, would current statistics show the same results?  Probably. Here are the hometowns of the ten service members killed in Afghanistan last week:

Crystal Lake, Illinois; Centerville, Iowa; Colonia, New Jersey; Palatka, Florida; Ferndale, Washington; Willis, Texas; Glendale, Arizona; Norwood, Massachusetts; Wilder, Idaho; Pahrump, Nevada. 

The Geezer believes if the draft had been in effect we never would have launched the second Iraq invasion and would have ended our participation in Afghanistan hostilities years ago.  Without a draft, it has been too easy for our highly educated, affluent politicians to send less educated, poor young men and women into combat. And the rest of us failed miserably to force common sense upon our leaders because those sent forth to risk death really weren’t “our kids.”

The draft was ended in the aftermath of an extremely unpopular war.  That action has produced several, probably unintended, negative consequences. Was ending the draft a colossal mistake?


Kay Dennison said...

You may have an excellent point. I don't know if that would help or not but if they did, I think they should do it without student deferments and include women -- now that MIGHT work.

Re: 'Nam, according to my cousin, who enlisted despite being in college with good grades, he felt that he shouldn't get preferential treatment because he was white, middle class and smart.

And I know you saw some of your frat brothers sweating finals 'cause they had low draft numbers.

Kay said...

I agree with Kay. You have made excellent points. If there was a draft, there would probably be more outrage and perhaps the war would have ended sooner or never started.

My son once wanted to join the army because of exactly what you stated. He felt it wasn't fair. Much as we did want fairness, we couldn't support him. We told him he'd be supporting George Bush's war. He became a firefighter instead for a while and we breathed a sigh of relief.

Granted he was a firefighter at Los Alamos so that wasn't all that safe either.

JHawk23 said...

You know that you and I agree on this. Restore the draft!

Conscription didn't solve every problem; it wasn't impossible for the sons (there were no daughters then) of the influential to escape, or to get preferential treatment by getting into a National Guard unit (which in those days, unlike now, was a 98% sure bet not to be called up).

But the draft is better than nothing, equalizes the burden, while also, I think, making it more difficult for politicians to wage wars of choice like Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Good article. I agree.

Little bug

schmidleysscribblins, said...

Soldiers and sailors are also disproportionately from the South and places with favorable gun laws. They cling to their Bibles and guns afterall.

Whites are still the majority in the enlisted military. Many more women in combat today also. Poor people have used the military as a means for self improvement for a long time. What will they do when there are fewer places to go?

With the French pulling out of Afghansitan, we won't be far behind. What a mess, and who was it that said this is a "good war"? Seems to me it was our current president.

War is a two-sided story isn't it?