Tomorrow in the U.S. is Memorial Day. That is a day for honoring the men and women killed in military service. Choosing to sacrifice one’s life for others is a heroic act. Assuming that a particular group of persons naturally and necessarily must make such sacrifices takes away from their heroism.
Men vastly predominate among persons serving and dying in armed forces. Among U.S. soldiers on active duty, men outnumber women by about six to one. Among U.S. soldiers fighting in the Iraq war, male soldiers’ deaths outnumber female soldiers’ deaths by about forty-two to one. The media has often reported the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq: through May 3, 2008, 4,059 killed. That number represents 3,935 men killed and 94 women killed.
Some might say that only men can perform the most dangerous tasks in war. But men also work in the most dangerous jobs outside of war: 5,396 men died at work in the U.S. in 2006, compared to 444 women. Some might say that men’s lives are less valuable than women’s. That view shows contempt for human equality and human dignity. Some might say that wars are men’s fault. In a democracy where the majority of voters are women, persons who make such a claim merely display their animosity toward men. The deaths of men should be recognized, not ignored or taken for granted.
The sacrifice of men’s lives in war gains more significance if men’s lives are more valued. Over the past two hundred years, improvements in diet, safety, and health care have greatly increased human lifespans. From 1900 to 2005 in the U.S., life expectancy at birth rose from 47 years to 78 years. Expecting to have 31 more years of life is a huge benefit. Males, however, have benefited less than females. In 1900, males’ life expectancy was two years less than females’. In 2005, males’ life expectancy was five years less than females’. The sacrifice of men’s lives in war would gain significance with more public concern to increase men’s relatively short expected lifespans.
Even much greater disparities in lifespan have attracted little public attention. In the U.S., black males have an expected lifespan eleven years less than that of white females. This is not merely a disadvantage among elites, such as university leaders or presidential candidates, competing for even greater status, authority, and wealth. Eleven years less of life for black males compared to white females is an huge difference in the lives of large groups of persons.
Men can be made more heroic by recognizing that men’s lives are not worth less than women’s lives. Don’t obscure in sexless categories or inclusive language the vastly disproportionate number of men who die in military service. Be concerned about men’s relative disadvantage in life expectancy. Show concern for men’s lives by working to improve men’s health. Men and women should start caring more about men.
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Data notes and references: Male and female solders on active duty on Sept. 30, 2007 can be calculated by subtracting from all active duty military personnel the separate tabulation of women only. Here’s U.S. military deaths by sex in the Iraq war. The sex distribution is similar to that of the wounded in action. Additional U.S. military casualty statistics here. The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries provides a tabulation by sex of occupational fatalities. For life expectancy at birth in the U.S. from 1900 to 2005, see Table 27 in Health, United States, 2007. This pattern of male lifespan decreasing relative to female lifespan over the past two hundred years has occurred generally; here’s data for France. For additional data and analysis, see Daniel J. Kruger and Randolph M. Nesse (2004), “Sexual selection and the Male:Female Mortality Ratio,” Evolutionary Psychology 2, pp. 66-77.