James Kurth gives us the ultimate American Conservative story: What do declining fertility rates auger for American militarism and empire?
In the modernizing societies of a century ago, the number of children per couple was normally four or more. It was also common for some of these children to die from disease while their parents were still living. If it happened that some instead died while fighting in a war, this was seen as a sad, but not surprising, variation on the familiar theme of death among the young.
Today, it is very rare for a child in postmodern society to die from disease while his parents are alive. And if he should die in military combat, this is seen as a shocking surprise. Indeed, for one of these rare children to die in such a rare way will increasingly seem a unique catastrophe and an unacceptable scandal. This is particularly true for the children of the professional class—the liberal professionals and the professional liberals. This class, of course, is especially large and dominant in the information economy and postmodern culture.
It is difficult to imagine such a society, with its one-child demography and no-death mentality, undertaking such military operations as the massive infantry assaults and trench warfare of World War I, the immense amphibious invasions and foxhole fighting of World War II, and the prolonged and stalemated combat of the Korean War. These kinds of operations could be undertaken by a modern society, but they probably are beyond the capabilities of a postmodern one. The popular opposition to the prolonged combat of the Vietnam War and now the Iraq War illustrates the point.
I must say, I like this better than the "our fathers and grandfathers just had more grit" trope. But it's hard to imagine any society undertaking the assaults of World War I. Europeans were still having large families but the loss of children from so many families was psychologically devastating, sending entire countries into gloom and denial. (Speaking of France and the UK, here.) So even if they had "spare" kids, families were still shaken and sickened by war when the kids got killed. Could that compare to what a family feels if they have one child and he/she's killed in Iraq when the parents are too old to try and have another?