The Associated Press December 21, 2006
Duke researcher finds that millions know war dead and wounded
By Estes Thompson
RALEIGH, N.C. - War injuries and deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan touch a smaller number of people than those affected by casualties of the Vietnam or Korean wars or World War II, according to a Duke sociology professor's study indicating America isn't widely affected by the war's grief.
Between 4.3 million and 6.5 million Americans may know people who were killed or wounded in the recent fighting, James Moody, an associate professor at Duke University, reported this month in the new, online journal "Structure and Dynamics: eJournal of Anthropological and Related Sciences."
Knowing how many people are influenced by a casualty through family ties, work or school becomes important as people debate whether the war effort is worth the billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost, said Moody, who works in the growing area of sociology that studies social networks.
"What's significant about it is it has this social magnifier effect," he said.
More than 3,250 troops have died as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to a count by The Associated Press. More than 22,000 have been wounded.
Fewer people are likely to know someone killed or wounded in the current battles because the war is smaller than those of the past century, said military analyst John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org.
"Vietnam, Korea, and the World Wars were much larger and bloodier wars fought by a rather smaller America," Pike said. "There were over a million American casualties in World War II, at a time when the U.S. had a population of about 130 million, so .77 percent of the population was a war casualty.
"The probability of knowing a casualty was about 100 times higher in (World War II) than today."
University of Maryland sociology professor David Segal, who was not involved in the research, said he believed the estimate helps explain why many people in the United States don't feel as if they live in a warring nation.
"Six and a half million Americans sounds like a lot," Segal said. "But it's about 2 percent. That doesn't suggest a nation at war.
"The bottom line is that the American military is at war, but American society is not. Even in Vietnam, everybody knew somebody who was killed or wounded."
In past wars, troops were drafted from all backgrounds and more people were killed. An estimated 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War and about 33,000 died in Korea.
"This is an all-volunteer force," Segal said. "The process of self-selection is going to restructure the networks in which people are involved and it is a smaller force."
Maj. James Brisson, deputy chaplain for the about 17,000 soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, said it's also a force that relies more heavily on immigrants, reducing the chance they'll have a well-developed social network in the U.S.
Brisson said when he talks to infantry paratroopers before a practice jump, about 10 percent of the 125 aboard a plane are from nations such as Russia and Vietnam or countries in Africa or Central and South America.
"I don't think the average white, middle class American or the average African-American middle class American realizes how many immigrants are in our army," he said.
But when any soldier from the 82nd Airborne dies, the military and the soldier's community rally around his family and his survivors, Brisson said.
"I have had fathers question me, `Is it worth it?'" Brisson said. "I have had none say the price is too high."
© Copyright 2006, The Associated Press