<< The Body Politic

Someone else’s children

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Ward in the Carver General Hospital, Washington, D.C.

At the NYR Blog, Christopher Benfey reflects on an exhibition of Civil War medical photography and the growing distance between military families and the larger civilian community. Of his own family, he writes,

None of us knows any men or women currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are someone else’s children. We watch news reports of wounded veterans learning to walk with prosthetic limbs. Recent stories about body parts mislaid at the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base fill us with outrage. Still, for many of us, it is a general, not an individualized outrage.

new report by the Pew Research Center demonstrates just how military service has become a job for “someone else’s children.” Looking at family connections, Pew researcher Kim Parker finds that veterans are more likely to have a close relative–a spouse, parent, child, or sibling–who has served than the general public.

Young adults  (ages 18-29), in particular, are far less likely to have such family ties–just one third compared to 77 percent of adults ages 50 and older. For many of these older Americans, their military family members served prior to the phasing out of the draft in 1973. As the military continues to shrink in size, the civilian population and the armed forces will share still fewer connections.

The Pew report also finds a geographical divide, which will come as no surprise to our readers. Southerners (64 percent) are more likely than those living in the Northeast (56 percent) or the West (57 percent) to have an immediate family tie to the military.

(We discussed an earlier Pew report on civil-military relations here.)