Sunday, November 11, 2012

Nov 11: class, war, and dying

Veterans' Day is a most appropriate time to reflect on the relation between social class and military service. In particular need of reflection is the fact that those from the lower reaches of the stratification order typically bear the brunt of casualties during war. Poor and working-class men are more often killed because they are more likely to serve in harm's way as non-commissioned front-line soldiers, but they also have been less able to avoid conscription by either paying another to serve as in the Civil War or receiving college deferment as in the Vietnam War (see Appy, 1993). Today's military is exclusively comprised of volunteers who often join because they lack viable employment alternatives, and this has only heightened the class-biased composition of casualties from recent wars in the Middle East. Moreover, poor and working-class men are also more likely to feel the continuing effects of war in terms of psychiatric distress as they transition out of the service and try to adapt to civilian life.

Army and Marine suicide rates increased sharply between 2001-2010 and today are about twice that for the U.S. population (Harrell & Berglass, 2011) . Recent data indicate that more active-duty military personnel have taken their lives this year than have died on the battlefield (Williams, 2012). However, suicide among veterans is of even far greater magnitude. According to the Veterans Administration, although about 1 percent of adults served in the military over the past decade, veterans represented 20 percent of all U.S. suicides (Harrell & Berglass, 2011). As discussed in the above Democracy Now! interviews with Aaron Glantz and others knowledgeable about the issue, the extreme suicide problem among military personnel and veterans reflects several key factors, including multiple deployments to the Middle East and an inadequate government treatment response to depression and PTSD.

For an excellent description of how war produces mental disorders and other adjustment problems, view the PBS Frontline documentary, The Wounded Platoon, which follows soldiers in an Army infantry unit from Fort Riley to deployment in Iraq and then back to the U.S.

For information on individual U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, see this excellent CNN interactive graphic.   


  1. When those in power have conflicts that lead to a war, soldiers on the front line are the ones risking their lives to achieve the objectives of the political leaders. There are many reasons why joining the military maybe appealing to an individual: job security, financial incentive and/or job training would be few of the examples. As for Rueben Paul Santos, a veteran featured in the story, had limited amount of social capital to obtain a career and this maybe the reason why he decided to join the military. There’s wealth of well documented studies that shows veterans are subject to depression, post traumatic stress disorder, trauma etc as well as being at risk for suicidal behaviors as we have seen in the video. For those men and women who have given so much of themselves, veterans should be revered for the sacrifices and the experiences they have gained. This, however, is not always the case. The experiences and credential they have gained while serving often does not translate to civilian credentials. Such was the case for former Staff Sergeant Meg Mitcham and former Specialists Daniel Hutchinson. They were combat medics who stabilized the wounded until the wounded had the medical evacuation available to them. Although their experiences have been documented by the military and it could prove their experiences to the potential employers, “it takes months if not years” (Hutchinson) to obtain it. They were on the Daily Show, where Jon Stewart held a mock interview for nurse’s aid and school nurse positions. This was done to show the presence of disconnect when transitioning from the military to the civilian work force. It also showed the imposed arbitrary licensure (e.g. occupational monopoly; demand side) to practice their field which they are highly qualified for. They have a basic EMT, which qualifies them to take vital signs when they were practicing at the EMT Paramedic level. (For this video, visit
    Watching one of the military recruitment commercials, the audience are led to believe the experiences gained in the armed forces does evolve into the civilian world with ease. Our men and women who have served our nation deserve more than a free meal or discounts (although it is a nice gesture by private companies). Veterans need something more substantial such as utilizing the skill set that they have learned to make a living in the civilian world without bureaucratic red tape.

    1. Your observations about the problems that veterans face upon re-entering civilian life are excellent, Sarah. Thanks also for informing us about John Stewart's interview with the former combat medics. Try this URL for viewing it: