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May 29, 2004

The Price of War

In keeping with the Memorial Day theme, Sydney J. Freeberg has an excellent piece in the National Journal on the price of war. I take exception with his translation of the monument at Thermopylae: although his is more irreverent (and perhaps more soldier-like), I prefer this one from my favorite book on the battle of Thermopylae, Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire:

Go tell the Spartans, strangers passing by
That here obedient to their laws we lie.

Freedberg does a good job of placing the casualties in historical perspective without trivializing the tremendous human cost of going to war:

In the scales of history, a thousand bodies are almost too light to measure. Even a young and relatively unbloodied country such as the United States has borne heavier burdens, and for longer. More American troops died every month at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968. More American troops died in one day at the start of the Normandy invasion in World War II. More American civilians died in minutes on September 11, 2001, in either tower of the World Trade Center.
But on a human scale, a thousand dead are almost beyond imagining. Some concrete comparisons might help. It is as if every male student (plus two dozen women) at some smallish liberal arts college had been wiped out. If the dead from this war could somehow return, if they were guests at the next State of the Union address, every senator and representative in Congress would have to yield his or her seat on the floor of the House chamber to an Army soldier killed in the Middle East. Soldiers slain elsewhere, plus all the Marines, airmen, and sailors, would overflow onto the balcony. If the dead could attend a White House reception, if they passed through the receiving line at a brisk clip of about three seconds per person -- handshake; hello; thank you; next, please -- the president would be shaking their hands for roughly 45 minutes, nonstop.
Then there are the living left behind. The vast majority of the troops killed so far in the "global war on terror," as the Pentagon calls it, were young enough to be survived by both their parents. About half of the dead were married. They leave more than 580 children.

Something to remember if you choose to light that candle at your Memorial Day dinner. And he dispells another persistent myth: that minorities are disproportionately represented among the dead. If only Charles Rangel read this blog (or the Vietnam casualty records for that matter):

It is wrong to say that minorities are disproportionately bearing the burden. Whites are indeed slightly under-represented in today's active-duty military as a whole: They make up 64.2 percent of the force, compared with 69.1 percent of the U.S. population. (The reserve components are somewhat whiter.) But whites are slightly over-represented among the dead, at 70.9 percent.

Ed. note: Since whites are dying at a rate 6.7% higher than their representation in the military and 1.8% higher than their representation in the general population, clearly something fishy is going on by Rep. Rangel's logic. They are obviously being victimized. Clearly we must bring back the draft to equalize racial representation among the dead. /sarcasm

Conversely, African-Americans are notably over-represented in the military as a whole. They make up 19.1 percent of the active-duty force, and a staggering 24 percent of the Army, as opposed to just 12.1 percent of the population. But blacks are not significantly over-represented among the dead of this global war: They make up only 12.4 percent.
The reason for this discrepancy, say experts, is that although blacks sign up in greater numbers, they cluster pragmatically in noncombat units whose training in mechanics, electronics, and logistics translates well into civilian careers upon leaving uniform. "The proportion of blacks to whites is very much smaller in the combat arms than in other branches," said retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former commandant of the Army War College and a noted author. He added that Special Forces and aviation units have the smallest percentage of minorities of all segments of the military.

Interesting reading for Memorial Day weekend.

- Cassandra

May 29, 2004 at 11:41 AM | Permalink


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