In an important study that has gotten too little attention, a demographer, William O’Hare, and a journalist, Bill Bishop, working with the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute, which specializes in the overlooked rural areas of our country, have crunched the numbers on where the American dead of the Iraq and Afghan Wars come from. The answer is: disproportionately from rural America.
According to their study, the death rate “for rural soldiers (24 per million adults aged 18 to 59) is 60% higher than the death rate for those soldiers from cities and suburbs (15 deaths per million).” Of rural areas, Vermont has the highest rate of casualties, followed by Delaware, South Dakota, and Arizona. Only 8 of our states have higher urban than rural death rates.
Demographer O’Hare, who himself grew up in the small Michigan town of Flushing, sums the matter up this way:
“We know that soldiers from rural America are dying at higher rates than those from urban America, strikingly higher, 60% higher. We know, from other research, that the rural young join the military at higher rates than those from metropolitan areas. The dearth of opportunity in rural areas simply leaves more young people there with fewer alternatives to the military.
“Dozens of case studies show that opportunities are moving away, part of a long-term shift. The opportunity differential between rural and urban America is probably higher now than at any time in the past. Our study highlights the price some young folks and their families are paying for lack of opportunity in rural America.”
Just over 3,000 Americans have died in Iraq. If the U.S. population is 300 million, then that’s just 0.001% of it – and many of these come disproportionately from the most forgotten, least attended to parts of our country, places that often have lost their job bases. Given our all-volunteer military (so that not even the threat of a draft touches other young Americans), you could say that the President’s war in Iraq — and its harm — has been disproportionately felt as well.
No wonder it’s been easy for so many Americans to ignore such a catastrophic war until relatively recently. This might, in a sense, be considered part of a long-term White House strategy, finally faltering, of fighting two significant wars abroad while demobilizing the population at home. When, for instance, soon after the 9/11 attacks the President urged Americans to go to Disney World or, in December 2006, to go “shopping more” to help the economy, he meant it. We were to continue with our normal lives, untouched by his war.