Monday, May 26, 2008

Remembering Veterans

Memorial day is an opportunity to remember those who have died in the military service. By the most recent count I can find, 4,081 men and women in military service have died in Iraq and 432 have died in military service in the Afghanistan area since 2001. Knowing how difficult it is to lose these lives helps put into perspective the 11,260,000 men and women who died in military service to the United States in World War II and the 58,209 who died in Vietnam.

Generally speaking more recent generations have borne a much lighter military burden than older generations. According to the 2006 American Community Survey about 20% of the male population in the United States has served some time on active duty in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or the Coast Guard.* This proportion is much lower for younger generations than those who were old enough to fight in WW II.

These generational differences will likely shape the debates between Obama and McCain this summer. McCain, who will turn 73 this August, is of a generation where the majority of men served in the military. Obama is 46 and of a generation where military service was much less common.

* The full definition of veteran that the Census bureau uses is as follows: a person 18 years old or over who has served (even for a short time), but is not now serving, on active duty in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or the Coast Guard, or who served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. People who served in the National Guard or military Reserves are classified as veterans only if they were ever called or ordered to active duty, not counting the 4-6 months for initial training or yearly summer camps.

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