Skip to comments.The Color of Combat - The minority-disproportion myth
Posted on 10/04/2002 9:48:53 AM PDT by gubamyster
October 4, 2002 9:00 a.m.
As I was channel-surfing late one evening last week, I was stopped in my tracks by the spectacle of Phil Donahue "interviewing" fellow master of pomposity Chris Matthews about the latter's views on a war with Iraq. Matthews was waxing indignant about how President Bush's Iraq policy had been hijacked by neoconservatives who had never served in uniform. (Of course, neither did Matthews.) He then claimed that in the event of a war with Iraq, racial minorities would suffer disproportionate casualties, since minorities make up nearly 30 percent of the military. Donahue heartily agreed.
This old saw also has found its way back into politics. A case in point is the Texas senatorial race. In a September 13 speech in San Antonio, the Democratic candidate, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, accused his Republican opponent, John Coryn, Texas Attorney-General, of being more favorably disposed toward war with Iraq because the children of the latter's wealthy friends would not be "in the front lines." "Look who would be doing the fighting," said Kirk. "They're disproportionately ethnic, they're disproportionately minority...I would be curious to see if we would go to war without any thought of loss if the first half-million kids to go came from families who made one million dollars."
The contention that in America's wars, minorities bear a disproportionate burden of the fighting and dying has long been a staple of Left-wing rhetoric since the Vietnam War. Even as late as the Gulf War in 1991, Jesse Jackson, addressing a largely black audience, claimed that "when that war breaks out, our youth will burn first."
But as Will Rogers once said, "it's not the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we know that just ain't true." The claim of disproportionate minority casualties wasn't true during the Vietnam War, where the record indicates that 86 percent of those who died during the war were white and 12.5 percent were black, from an age group in which blacks comprised 13.1 percent of the population. It is even less true today.
To understand why, it is necessary to look a little beneath the surface. While overall, minorities comprise 30 percent of the Army, one of the two services that would be expected to bear the brunt of close combat in Iraq, they tend to be underrepresented in the combat arms. As the incomparable Tom Ricks observed in a January 1997 article for the Wall Street Journal, the "old stereotype about the Army's front-line units being cannon fodder laden with minorities" is false.
The fact is that blacks disproportionately serve in Army combat-service support units, not combat units. When Ricks wrote his piece, such units had become "majority minority," with more black soldiers than white. By contrast, he observed, the infantry, which generally suffers the most casualties in wartime, had become "whiter than America." African Americans constituted nine percent of the infantry, compared to 11.8 percent of the age eligible civilian population. In 1995, 79 percent of the new troopers were white, compared with 74.3 percent of civilians. There is little evidence to suggest that these figures have changed much over the last five years
Why is this the case? Ricks pointed out that the new demographics of the Army have to do with the dynamics of an all-volunteer force Blacks and whites join the military for different reasons. On the one hand, white youths are frequently looking for adventure while they try to raise money for college. As a result, they tend to flock to the combat arms, especially elite units like the Rangers and airborne. On the other, young black males, "are generally seeking skills, and so gravitate toward administrative and technical jobs. Because they often find the Army a fairer and better place to live than civilian society, blacks tend to stay enlisted longer: Though only 22% of today's recruits are black, the Army itself is 30% black."
In addition, most pilots are white, as are most special-operations forces, e.g. Navy SEALS and Army special-forces. This leads one to the conclusion that in a war, middle-class white kids, not minorities, would be at the greatest risk, since they make up the bulk of the combat arms. So much for the conventional wisdom.
Mackubin Thomas Owens, an NRO contributing editor, is professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He led a Marine rifle platoon in the Vietnam War.
|Part III - Will the Real Vietnam Vet Stand Up?|
|B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley|
Exclusive to NewsMax.com: Excerpts from Stolen Valor: How The Vietnam Generation Was Robbed Of its Heroes And its Historyby B.G. Burkett & Glenna Whitley
To order Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heros and its History please Click Here
America won World War II. Vietnam was "the only war America ever lost."
In World War II, everybody pulled together. Vietnam was the class war, the war in which wet-behind-the-ears, poor, uneducated, minority men were chopped to pieces while college boys thumbed their noses at them in campus antiwar protests.
Brave American soldiers in World War II bested the evil armies of Hitler and Hirohito. In Vietnam, confused, drug addicted soldiers killed women and children.
World War II's veterans came home to stirring parades, ready to sire the baby boom and forge a supernation. Vietnam veterans trickled back in dishonor, fighting drug habits and inner demons. Or so say the stereotypes. Let's look behind the myths:
Myth: The war in Vietnam was fought by teenagers barely old enough to shave, while World War II was fought by men. A much-repeated statistic claims that the average age of the Vietnam soldier was 19, while the average age of the World War II soldier was 26.
Reality: The average age of men killed in Vietnam was 22.8 years, or almost 23 years old. While the average age of those killed was 22.8, more 20-year-olds were killed than any other age, followed by 21-year-olds, then 19-year-olds. More 52-year-olds (22) died in Vietnam than youths of 17 (12). The oldest American serviceman killed was 62. Almost 11 percent of those who died were 30 years of age or older.
Myth: The war was fought predominantly by draftees.
Reality: About one-third of Vietnam-era veterans entered the military through the draft, far lower than the 67 percent drafted in World War II. And once drafted, many men volunteered for the Marines, the Airborne, Special Forces, or other duty likely to send them to Vietnam.
Myth: It was a class war, with the poor and lower middle class those who suffered the brunt of it. The best and the brightest didn't go.
Reality: The force that fought in Vietnam was America's best educated and most egalitarian in the country's history -- and with the advent of the all-volunteer Army is likely to remain so.
In World War II, only 45 percent of the troops had a high school diploma.
Many were virtually illiterate. During the Vietnam War, almost 80 percent of those who served had high school diplomas, even though, at the time, only 65 percent of military age youths in the U.S. had a high school degree.
Throughout the Vietnam era, the median education level of the enlisted man was about 13 years. Proportionately three times as many college graduates served in Vietnam than in World War II.
A study done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992 compared the socio-economics of the 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam to 58,000 randomly chosen contemporaries by rating their home-of-record according to per-capita income. They discovered that 30 percent of the KIAs came from the lowest third of the income range; but 26 percent of the combat deaths came from families earning in the highest third. This result was startling -- and far from the expectation that wealthier Americans were sheltered from the war.
Myth: The war took the highest toll on minorities.
Reality: About 5 percent of those who died were Hispanic and 12.5 percent were black -- making both minorities slightly under-represented in relation to their proportion of draft-age males in the national population. (This will be discussed further in a later chapter.)
Myth: The soldier in Vietnam smoked pot and shot up with heroin to dull the horrors of combat.
Reality: In 1967, the drug use rate of .25 per 1,000 troops in Vietnam was lower than the Army-wide rate of .30 per 1,000 troops. Except for the last couple of years of the war, drug usage among American troops in Vietnam was lower than for American troops stationed anywhere else in the world, including the United States. Even when the drug use started to rise in 1971 and 1972, almost 90 percent of the men who had ever served in Vietnam had already come and gone. America had virtually thrown in the towel; idleness and the declining troop morale led to escalating drug use that reached crisis proportions.
A study after the war by the VA showed drug usage of veterans and non-veterans of the Vietnam age group was about the same. Another study, the "Vietnam-Era Research Project," concluded that drug use was more common among non-veterans than Vietnam-era veterans.
Myth: American soldiers deserted rather than fight the "immoral" war.
Reality: In World War II, the Army's overall desertion rate during that war was 55 percent higher than during Vietnam. Of those troops who deserted during the Vietnam era, only five percent did so while attached to units in Vietnam. Only 24 deserters attributed their action to the desire to "avoid hazardous duty." Of AWOLs, only 10 percent were related to opposition to the war.
Myth: Vietnam vets have high rates of incarceration.
Reality: A 1981 VA study concluded that 25 percent of those in combat during the war had ended up in prison. In the mid-1980s VietNow, one of the first Vietnam veterans' organizations to receive a VA grant for delayed stress counseling, put out a pamphlet claiming that over 70,000 Vietnam vets were behind bars, while over 200,000 were on probation, parole, or out on bail. The more mainstream Vietnam Veterans of America has claimed that 5 to 12 percent of the prison population at any given time are Vietnam vets, with up to 300,000 in the criminal justice system.
All this information is based on self-reporting by prisoners. But in every major study of Vietnam veterans where the military records were pulled from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and the veterans then located for interviews, an insignificant number have been found in prisons.
Myth: Substantial numbers of Vietnam veterans are unemployed.
Reality: Vietnam veterans are no more likely to be unemployed than men who did not serve in Vietnam and, in fact, have a lower unemployment rate than those who didn't serve. Figures from 1994 showed that the unemployment rate for U.S. males 18 and over was 6 percent. The unemployment rate for all male veterans was 4.9 percent. Among Vietnam-era veterans who served outside the Vietnam theater, it was 5 percent. For Vietnam veterans, the rate went down to 3.9 percent.
In every category for which I could find statistics, Vietnam veterans were as successful or more successful than men their age who did not go to Vietnam. A Washington Post/ABC News survey released in April 1985, on the tenth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, reinforced the findings of the earlier Harris study. The Post/ABC survey randomly polled 811 veterans who served in Vietnam and Southeast Asia and 438 Vietnam-era veterans who served elsewhere. The poll revealed that only nine percent of Vietnam veterans had never graduated from high school compared to 23 percent of their peers. A Vietnam veteran was more likely to have gone to college than a man of his age not in the service; nearly 30 percent of Vietnam vets had some college education, versus 24 percent of the U.S. population.
That educational edge translated to employment rates similar to non-veterans of the war. In 1985, three of every four said their annual household incomes exceeded $20,000. Almost half made $30,000 or more per year. Seventy-eight percent were homeowners, paying mortgages on traditional, single-family homes -- and more likely to own a home than their peers who did not go to Vietnam. Eight of every 10 surveyed were married and 90 percent had children.
Strikingly, the Washington Post survey indicated that, despite the negative attitudes of the public, Vietnam veterans had positive feelings about their experience:
- Seventy-four percent said they "enjoyed their time in service."
With this ammunition, I was ready to fight the image battle. But I had forgotten about "Them."
Another good point is to remember those kids volunteer to defend the Constitution of the United States. Not Haiti, not Kosovo, not even Kuwait.
No, no, no, you have it all wrong: Jesse jus' don' want them ackshully expose' to DANEguh!
The average age of men killed in Vietnam was 22.8 years, or almost 23 years old...This race-baiting crap disparages everyone who served. I hope these guys asphyxiate on their own bile.
The force that fought in Vietnam was America's best educated and most egalitarian in the country's history ...
They discovered that 30 percent of the KIAs came from the lowest third of the income range; but 26 percent of the combat deaths came from families earning in the highest third. (emphasis added) ...
About 5 percent of those who died were Hispanic and 12.5 percent were black -- making both minorities slightly under-represented in relation to their proportion of draft-age males in the national population.
What's the Ebonics word for "consistency"?
see also: race warlords, poverty pimps