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."
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