Soldier Baby of Mine

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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?

NEXT: But Our War Crimes Were Heroic and Honorable

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  1. Cloned super soldiers is clearly the way to go if we want to maintain our edge.

  2. He forgot to mention that Iran now has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, actually on par with western countries.

  3. Here’s the thing you have to remember – countries as we traditionally know them are becoming less and less relevant.

    The American working class, for example, consists mostly of people in China. As Kurth correctly notes, borgeious Americans and Europeans tend to have fewer kids and value them more. To put it in blunt terms, we don’t have as many “expendable” people for fighting giant wars anymore. I don’t know if we could get the same Asians who make our stuff to fight our wars for us. Maybe.

    On the plus side, the world economy is becoming so interdependant that large-scale war doesn’t make much sense anymore (if it ever did). The US and China may be the world’s top powers, but are they enemies or partners?


  4. On the plus side, the world economy is becoming so interdependant that large-scale war doesn’t make much sense anymore (if it ever did). The US and China may be the world’s top powers, but are they enemies or partners?

    See, thats why I don’t care if the mainland Chinese really did own most of our Debt. (They don’t, actually the British, Dutch, and Japanese do). That would stop either side from doing anything incredibly stupid.

  5. Should read, “thats why I wouldn’t care…”

  6. Yeah, I’m sort of counting on the Chinese to be the grownups if Cheney decides it’s time to invade Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Russia, Canada, etc.

    No mo money for stupid war. So solly.

  7. Reminds of a George Carlin quote “Conservative want live babies so they can turn them into dead soldiers”. I never thought that I’d actually read a conservative making that argument.

  8. Yeah, I’m sort of counting on the Chinese to be the grownups if Cheney decides it’s time to invade Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Russia, Canada, etc.

    No mo money for stupid war. So solly.

    Or it could be the other way around – China provides the money under the condition that we do the fighting.

  9. Dan T, et al.

    Again, China does not own most or even a large amount of our national debt.

    When politicians talk about the scary mainland Chinese controlling our economy, its demagoguery of the first order.

  10. Cesar – thanks for the link…I didn’t know that.

  11. Why do you think GW was so gung-ho for immigration reform?

    Watch a Spanish channel sometime (I recommend watching Asi Es La Vida) You’ll see an obnoxious number of military recruiting commercials.

  12. Call me a bleeding-heart liberal, but I sort of think moving away from the “Let’s see how many soldiers we can slaughter at once” approach to warfare is a “good” thing.
    Isn’t there some economic rule saying that the more you have of something, the less you value it?

  13. This is a little off-subject, but it’s worth noting that the U.S. suffered “World War I” size casualties in our own Civil War. The South suffered 300,000 dead out of a total white male population of about 3 million–over 15% of the adult white male population. (There were about 3 million black slaves, male and female, who worked but did not fight.) The North also suffered about 300,000 dead, out of a total white male population of about 11 million–a lot easier to take. On a percentage basis, southern losses exceeded those of any of the European nations in WWI.

    This is why so much of American politics is about the Civil War–the Democrats are the party of the blacks and the Republicans are the party of the southern whites. Which is also why northern states with low black populations tend to go independent. It’s not their fight.

  14. So we ought to aspire to a society where young adults and older children are viewed as expendable, but fetuses are cherished and holy.

    Man, it really sucks to be post-fetal.

  15. On the plus side, the world economy is becoming so interdependant that large-scale war doesn’t make much sense anymore (if it ever did).

    I might find that line of argument reassuring if it hadn’t been used in Europe prior to WWI.

    OTOH, I have never bought into the idea that “the present generation doesn’t have the guts”. If the US were truly threatened by an enemy, I think there would be no shortage of Americans willing to fight.

  16. 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.

    What? Is he trying to say that liberals suck because they don’t like seeing their children die? WTF?

  17. …declining fertility rates auger for…

    a-u-g-u-r, young David.

  18. We hear this from leftoids as well.

    ” ‘Mercan soldiers are just too chickenshit to fight. Afraid of getting hurt, all they can do is push a button, or get a robot to do the dirty work. . . . While our enemies are willing to give their lives for what they believe in. Just shows they must be right. Look at the courage of their convictions.”

  19. “Yes, my pretties. Breed.

    Breed!

    Breed more cannon fodder for your good ol’ Uncle Sam!

    MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

  20. The days of large scale infantry warfare between between advanced nations are over. If it isn’t decided by tanks or high tech, it will be ended with nukes.

  21. Does Mr. Kurth have children? When you have children you think about them differently than you do before you have them.

  22. Weird that such an article would appear in what is usually a staunch anti-war, anti-military/industrial complex mag.

  23. This article is disturbing for 2 reasons.

    1) I don’t like the way it divides people by ethnicity. If someone in the US is peaceful, he’s OK by me regardless of his ethnicity. If he’s violent, lock him up regardless of his ethnicity.

    2) The decision to go to war should be based on the threat another nation poses, not how easy that nation is to attack. If a nation doesn’t threaten us, don’t attack it. If a nation does threaten us, try diplomacy first and war if that doesn’t work. If both a strong and a weak nation threaten us, we should challenge the strong one or neither. Attacking the weaker nation would only make us less able to defend ourselves against the strong nation.

  24. Since when have the people joining the army been the children of the professional class? Soon enough all our troops will be Mexican immigrants, who will be promised citizenship after the forever war.

  25. Since when have the people joining the army been the children of the professional class? Soon enough all our troops will be Mexican immigrants, who will be promised citizenship after the forever war.

    Immigrants joining the military in large numbers to gain respect and legitimacy has a very long tradition in American history.

    Germans and Scots-Irish did it in the Revolution, Irish Catholics did it in the Civil War, Eastern Europeans did in WWI and WWII.

  26. Irish Catholics did it in the Civil War

    I seem to remember that the “Conscription Riots” were more about NOT wanting to join the Grand Army of the Republic.

  27. So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
    And took the fire with him, and a knife.
    And as they sojourned both of them together,
    Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
    Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
    But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
    Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
    and builded parapets and trenches there,
    And stretch?d forth the knife to slay his son.
    When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
    Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
    Neither do anything to him, thy son.
    Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
    A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

    But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
    And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

  28. I seem to remember that the “Conscription Riots” were more about NOT wanting to join the Grand Army of the Republic.

    Yes, but there were many that did. There were even all-Irish regiments.

  29. I found this article to be rather slapdash in its analysis, particularly to the comparison between demographics/culture in the U.S. and Europe. Kurth tries to analogize between European Muslims and U.S. Latinos, and I think that’s pretty strained.

  30. The American working class, for example, consists mostly of people in China.

    Chops to Dan T. for making a witty, valid point rather than trolling.

  31. 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.

    Hooray!

  32. What? Is he trying to say that liberals suck because they don’t like seeing their children die? WTF?

    Conservatives, libertarians, and independents aren’t particularly enamored of it, either. Yeah, it may be even more heart-wrenching when it’s your only child, but near-unbearable pain either way.

  33. Finkelstein,

    The only person I can think of who said anything close to what you claim was libertarian Bill Mahar.

  34. joe-

    Bill Mahar is as libertarian as Eric Dondero.

  35. 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.

    During and after WWI there were a number of former soldiers who were returned to France who had no memory of themselves prior to the war. At least some of these soldiers were sought after by thousands of grieving parents looking for a son lost in the war.* These efforts stretched into the 1930s as I recall. Now WWI was slightly less than a century ago, but even in modernizing societies parents and loved ones agonized over the deaths of their loved ones in combat. This is further evidenced by the long torches that many parents held for their beloved sons lost in the Civil War.

    *Keep in mind that at Verdun there is a massive ossuary which contains over one hundred thousand unidentified remains. As time progresses more and more bones are added to this collection.

  36. Indeed, what the argument sounds like is that which used to be heard about parents in the medieval world or that of the renaissance – that they cared less for their children because disease so often carried many of them off. When actual work was done to confirm this notion it was discovered that the middle ages and renaissance was filled with loving, heartbroken parents.

  37. Then again, I could be wrong. There could be a lot of work on this that I am not aware of. Nevertheless, from what I know of family reactions to war time deaths in the American Civil War and in WWI it doesn’t square with what I have read. Of course my observations are merely anecdotal.

  38. …undertaking such military operations as the massive infantry assaults and trench warfare of World War I…

    Which nearly broke France* and did break Russia and Germany.

    *The April to May 1917 mutiny along the French lines would have ended the war if Germany had known about it.

  39. Cesar,

    My point is, there is exactly one person who has said anything close to what Finkelstein asserts is par-for-the-course for “leftoids,” and he is, arguably, not even a leftie.

  40. Syloson of Samos:

    It is ever thus. “Modern” people always seem to think that those who’ve come before were fundamentally inferior.* It doesn’t occur to them that men and women living a hundred thousand years ago were perfectly capable of understanding integrated circuits and differential calculus; it was ignorance, not stupidity, that held them back.

    I suspect that, should demographic trends in the distant future revert to large families, people will argue that of course twenty-first century Americans didn’t love their children; for if they did, they would surely have had more, and multiplied their joy thereby.

    *Exception for New Age folk who think technology is ruining us. See, e.g., yesterday’s “Abundant Truths” thread.

  41. Very well said, Son of a!

    The more people avoid the false doctrines of the Blank Slate and the Noble Savage, the smarter our political discourse will get.

  42. must say, I like this better than the “our fathers and grandfathers just had more grit” trope

    Agreed–Any generation will do what it needs to do to get by. The so called “Greatest Generation” was no greater than any other, they just happened to be fated to have to defeat the greatest (coolest?) of all enemies, the Nazis and Imperial Japan.

    If my (or any other generation) had to face that enemy, then we could have done just as well.

    Although in all honesty we would have complained more, as is our want.

  43. Thanks for linking to this idiot. I’ve wanted to sound off for three or four days since I read this. The author manages to simultaneously suggest that parents of large families don’t love their children and parents of small families are somehow wimps for not wanting their kids to die. If he has kids, I strongly hope he is very traditional in his attitudes and therefore has little or nothing to do with their upbringing.

    Oh, and many, many props to the person who quoted Wilfred Owen.

  44. Declining birthrates will have absolutely zero effect on US militarism. The reason is that there will not be any humans on the battlefield of the future — at least not on the US side. The furriners may keep sending their kids to die fighting us until they figure out that we don’t care if they kill our robots. At that point they’ll probably just stop fighting us on the battlefield altogether and concentrate on terrorism full time.

    Here is how I (a former defence engineer) see it coming down:

    Robot scout aircraft are already in widespread use (Predator, Global Hawk, etc.) and will become increasing important. Northrop has been working for a while now on an unmanned strike aircraft, and I would expect to see it operational in the next decade. The final role to be filled by robots will be air superiorty. The fighter jocks will protest, but in the end they can’t fight technology. We’ve long been able to design an airframe that can pull 20 g’s all day long, but a human pilot can’t do more than 7g’s for any length of time without passing out. The meatbag in the pilot seat is the limiting factor, and sooner or later the engineers and budgeteers are going to win that fight and ground Maverick and Goose and all their testosterone-junky buddies.

    With autoloading guns, the technology to produce an automated tank is already here. Frankly, though, future armor will probably rely on missles instead of guns. A tank gun with a clear line of sight can’t hit a target at much more than 6 km. When I left the defense industry, we were working on a 70 lb missle that could take out a tank at 18 km. Missiles will dominate ground warfare in the future just as they have come to dominate air warfare. Mobile armored missile platforms will replace tanks, and won’t really need a meatbag taking up space and stretching supply lines.

    The last element to go will be the ground soldier — but go he will. We are already working on robotic “pack mules” to carry loads for the warfighter. The next evolution is to arm them. After that they will become increaingly mobile and humanlike and will eventually be able to go anywhere a human soldier can (up stairs, down holes, through tunnels, etc.)

    I’d give the whole process 30 years, at most. You’ll see most of it happen within 15 years.

  45. The days of large scale infantry warfare between advanced nations are over. If it isn’t decided by tanks or high tech, it will be ended with nukes.

    Actually “large scale infantry warfare” is over because there’s only one militarily advanced nation left that can conduct it. OTOH medium and small-scale actions will continue to be infantry heavy.

    Mobile armored missile platforms will replace tanks, and won’t really need a meatbag taking up space and stretching supply lines.

    Either the platform will have to be intelligent, which raises lots of control problems, or it will have to be guided by a remote operator, which raises nearly insurmountable security problems.

    Programming a self-controlled aircraft to go to a GPS location and take pictures or drop ordinance is one thing. Programming a ground vehicle to respond in a fluid battlefield so it destroys enemies without harming friendlies another. Such a mind would be nearly intelligent enough that SF “machines revolt” scenarios become thinkable.

    Remote control relies on an undetectable signal carrying the communication back and forth. Encryption won’t help. You don’t need to understand a signal to drop something on its origin. (Every now and then an engineer envisions equipping each soldier with a GPS beacon so commanders will know exactly where their troops are. But don’t expect me to carry one.)

    The last element to go will be the ground soldier — but go he will. We are already working on robotic “pack mules” to carry loads for the warfighter. The next evolution is to arm them. After that they will become increasingly mobile and humanlike and will eventually be able to go anywhere a human soldier can (up stairs, down holes, through tunnels, etc.)

    And after that war, we meatbags will be back at it, probably with knives and stones. I just hope we don’t have to take on the mules.

  46. This is why so much of American politics is about the Civil War–the Democrats are the party of the blacks and the Republicans are the party of the southern whites.

    Wait — what?

    I remember a different Civil War. Odd.

  47. Actually, I think Kurth raises several valid points. While it’s certainly true that parents with large families have traditionally been no less heartbroken than any other parents to have a child slain in combat, I submit that of the handful of people I’ve gotten to know well in the Army, none of them seem to be only children of “Liberal Professional” parents.

    Also, there are certainly a high amount of support (i.e. Ordnance, Signal, MI) personnel, in proportion to combat arms (Infantry, Armor, e.g.), however combat arms remains indispensible. Even though we can technologically roll over most other armies relatively easily, we still have to have personnel to keep the peace and maintain a presence (i.e. our messes in the Middle East). I find it ludicrous to suggest that a H/K (see “Terminator” films) would be effective in this role. Our sophisticated technology takes on an increasingly important role on our battlefields, but I’m fine with that (I’m Ordnance).

    Again, I think the war in Iraq was a bad move, and diverted necessary personnel from stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, and I tend to be a bit of a peacenik myself, but I think its naive to assume that we will no longer need droves of individuals willing to put themselves in harm’s way (for college money, signing bonuses, etc.).

    On a personal note, I tend to be politically libertarian and kind of a semi-intellectual slacker, and as you can guess, I’m kind of miserable in the military sometimes.

  48. I’ve thought for some time now that today’s “family values” or “conservatism” stem from the need to replenish populations during the plagues and crusades of the Middle Ages.

  49. On the plus side, the world economy is becoming so interdependant that large-scale war doesn’t make much sense anymore (if it ever did).

    A lot of people said just that right before WWI.

  50. “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.”

    Can you say, “Terminator?” I expect fighter pilots to be completely out of business in less than 2 decades. Robot (computer) pilots can take far higher ‘g’ forces and never get tired.

    The same is true for land combat. There’s no reason a soldier couldn’t drive a tank remotely (from hundreds of miles away) rather than being inside. In fact, there’s no reason the robot can’t pilot itself. It worked in “Westworld.”

    😉

  51. You mean augur. Unless you meant a wood-boring tool.

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