The Casualty Gap: The Causes and Consequences of American Wartime Inequalities

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Many have long suspected that when America takes up arms it is a rich man's war, but a poor man's fight. Despite these concerns about social inequality in military sacrifice, the hard data to validate such claims has been kept out of public view. In The Casualty Gap Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen renew the debate over unequal sacrifice by bringing to light mountains of new evidence on the inequality dimensions of American wartime casualties. They demonstrate unequivocally that since the conclusion of World War II communities at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder have borne a disproportionate share of the human costs of war. Moreover, they show for the first time that when Americans are explicitly confronted with evidence of this inequality, they become markedly less supportive of the nation's war efforts. The Casualty Gap also uncovers how wartime deaths affect entire communities. Citizens who see the high price war exacts on friends and neighbors become more likely to oppose war and to vote against the political leaders waging it than residents of low-casualty communities. Moreover, extensive empirical evidence connects higher community casualty rates in Korea and Vietnam to lower levels of trust in government, interest in politics, and electoral and non-electoral participation. In this way, the casualty gap threatens the very vibrancy of American democracy by depressing civic engagement in high-casualty communities for years after the last gun falls silent. The Casualty Gap should be read by all who care about bringing to light inequalities in military sacrifice and understanding the effects of war on society and democracy.