Thursday, November 12, 2009

On soldiering and migration

Yesterday was Remembrance Day in Canada, the two minutes of silence starting on the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month commemorating the 65 thousand war dead of the First World War. These dead, like Caanda's other war dead, as in other nations, play a major role in defining national identities and histories, creating create collective traumas and comemmorations as group rituals. But, as I noted on my blog yesterday, although these events are common to the nation as a whole, the casualties aren't so dispersed.

The bumper sticker on Robin and Paulette Tedford's red Ford pickup truck is as direct as they come. "If you don't stand behind our troops," it reads beneath a Canadian flag, "feel free to stand in front of them." The message might seem jingoistic and surprising in peace-loving Canada, but the sticker is a hot item in this small central Nova Scotia town, and nobody here would think to question the Tedfords' right to display it.

On Oct. 14, 2006, their youngest son, Sergeant Darcy Tedford, 32, was on patrol outside Kandahar when his light-armoured vehicle was ambushed by Taliban insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades. He and Private Blake Williamson were killed. Born in Calgary but raised near Truro since the age of one, Sgt. Tedford was the third solider from the area to be killed in Afghanistan. Corporal Christopher Reid, 34, had died in August 2006 when his light-armoured vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, and a month later, Warrant Officer Frank Mellish, 38, was killed in fierce fighting with the Taliban. Last December saw the combat death of a fourth Truro native, Corporal Thomas Hamilton, 26, who was born in Truro and raised in Upper Musquodoboit, about 45 kilometres away.

For a town of just 12,000 people, the war in Afghanistan has taken an extraordinary toll. It should not, however, come as a surprise. A careful study of the list of the 133 Canadian soldiers who've lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2002 shows they are far more likely to have roots in a town such as Truro than in Toronto or Vancouver. Reflecting overall patterns of enlistment in the Canadian Forces, those killed hail disproportionately from Atlantic Canada and the Prairies. They are for the most part white males under 40 who come from small towns rather than major urban centres.

[. . .]

Truro bills itself as "the hub of Nova Scotia," but it is a hub that most people skirt around on the way to and from Halifax. The tourism kiosk at Halifax airport greets arrivals with pamphlets on attractions in every corner of Nova Scotia, but the attendant came up empty when asked for material on Truro. Even inside the hub, a motel postcard rack offered cards from Digby, Pictou and the Annapolis Valley but nothing from Truro. Statistics Canada reports that the town's median household income is well below the provincial average, and its population is homogenous. Just 5% of the population are immigrants, with few recent arrivals, and English is the mother tongue of 96% of residents. It is a place where a Chinese restaurant can call itself Hou's Takee Outee without raising eyebrows.

It is also a place where military tradition runs deep. The names of 278 townsmen who fell in the two world wars, and now Afghanistan, are engraved on the downtown cenotaph. "The attitude of people here is they support the troops 100%," said Garry Higgins, president of the local Royal Canadian Legion branch. Remembrance Day ceremonies draw between 3,000 and 4,000 people, he said. Herb Peppard, an 89-year-old veteran of the Second World War, said the respect he receives from the townspeople reflects their appreciation of the military. "I think Nova Scotia is always represented well [in the Forces] compared to its population," he said. "We get very patriotic here."

This disproportionate number of recruits has been commented on before.

In 2005-06, 23 per cent of the Canadian Forces' recruits came from Atlantic Canada, according to a military spokesperson in Ottawa, while 26 per cent were from Quebec and 33 per cent were from Ontario. About 19 per cent came from the West.

But Michel Desjardins, a petty officer at the recruiting detachment in Bathurst, N.B., estimates that the number for Atlantic Canada is even higher.

"Eastern Canada, we do provide a lot of people for the Canadian Forces," Petty Officer Desjardins said. "I believe last time I looked, about a third of the Canadian Forces are from Atlantic Canada, and for a region of the country that only comprises something like 10 per cent of the Canadian population, it's a lot."

7.2% of the Canadian population, to be precise. Further in this second source, one observer suggests that joining the military is just another form of out-migration.

Jonathan Vance, Canada Research Chair in Conflict and Culture at the University of Western Ontario in London, agrees that it is a high proportion and suggests that military recruitment should be viewed as another form of out-migration in the region "because you sign on not really knowing where it's going to take you. And out-migration is itself almost entirely for economic reasons.

"It may well be, for Maritimers with limited job prospects, joining the military is not that much different from going to the oil sands in Alberta, except for the fact there's a chance you'll get killed. It does fit in with the decades-old pattern of Maritimers leaving the province in one way or another."

There's a similarm phenomenon in the United States, where Southerners play a disproportionately large role in thjat country's armed forces.

* The South provides a disproportionate share of the nation’s troops. An analysis of Department of Defense state reveals that 35% of the nation’s active-duty military personnel come from 13 Southern states. Of the top 15 states where those serving in the military are born, the South accounts for seven.

* The South especially dominant in stationing troops. 51% of active-duty U.S. military personnel based in the continental U.S. are stationed in the South. Four of the top states for stationing troops are in the South: Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.

* The South has been the region most highly impacted by the loss of soldiers in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of the U.S. troops that have died in Iraq, 38% were based in the South. 47% of those killed in Afghanistan were based in Southern states.

The South provides nearly twice as many recruits per capita than the Northeast. This extended Heritage Foundation review points to the relative underrepresentation of the populations of California, the Midwest, and the Northeast in the country in the number of recruits, although some of its other claims re: the representative nature of the army's recruitment may be significantly overstated.

As for the United Kingdom, low unemployment rates have contributed to the growing number of recruits of non-British citizenship, amounting to nearly 10% of the total numbers.

This pattern makes sense. The link between relative economic deprivation and the propensity to enlist in the military--not, it should be emphasized, under draft conditions, but as volunteers--is well-known. Service in the military is socially prestigious, provides an easy way to escape a relatively deprived background, and--perhaps most importantly--provides a secure, nay, even guaranteed, job and source of income. Many militaries also provide benefits, like free health care or education subsidies. If these options are available to someone who'd otherwise lack them, whether because of region or because of social class, it's not surprising that they'd enlist.

This leads to an interesting set of questions. Do these North Atlantic trends prevail elsewhere: are Sicilians more likely to be in the military than Lombards, DOMiens than Métros, Brazilians from Recife versus Brazilians from Rio Grande do Sul, Siberians than Moscovites? Economic disparities within European Union member-states' regions, never mind between social classes, would seem to create incentives in that developed area. The question of where people formerly in the military settle on the end of that career would also be interesting to answer: do they return to their home regions, or, equipped with financial and career-related capital, do they head to their country's economic nuclei?


benj said...

Interesting. The same pattern has been observed even in a small country like Israel where there was a lot of discussion in the pas years about the under-representation of Tel Avivians in the fighting units, and over representation of immigrants, national-religious Jews and people from the periphery of the country.

Anonymous said...

"Service in the military is socially prestigious, provides an easy way to escape a relatively deprived background, and--perhaps most importantly--provides a secure, nay, even guaranteed, job and source of income."

A socially prestigious job is something that your mother wants you to be. In reality it is a job you do instead of going to school. It is an admission that you're an idiot.

And secure? Your kicked out when your 30. This isn't only true for the grunts but for cooks, MP's, fighter pilots and mechanics.