Is it because Americans are more patriotic than Australians? Is it because the military, wars and the consequent loss of life are a more pervasive part of US society?
When you trawl the blogosphere you find all sorts of examples of the respect with which everyday people in the US appear to hold military personnel. You find very little of that in Australia.
Wikipedia lists active duty personnel in the US military as numbering 1,445,000 in February this year with an additional 850,000 in Reserve elements. That's against a US population of just over 304 million for 2008 (US Census). So counting reserve and active duty the military makes up around 0.75% of the population.
For the 2007-2008 financial year trusty Wikipedia lists combined active duty and reserve for the Australian Defence Force as 73,500 and Australian population is projected at around 21.85 million in July 2009 (ABS). That gives a proportion of the population in the military of 0.34% - around half the proportion of the US.
Now that doesn't seem like much difference to me - granted Australia only has around half the proportion of defence personnel that the US does but I would have thought that the behavioural differences that I see would have been generated by a much greater disparity than that.
Maybe it's the US war dead that does it. In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars the total dead and wounded is about 53,500. The Australian numbers are as far as I can determine something in the order of 20-30 killed and wounded. US proportion is 0.0176% of population whilst the Australian proportion is 0.000137%. That seems to me like a real difference - 2 orders of magnitude. That's the kind of difference that would have a very real effect on how a country feels.
OK enough of the numbers, what does this really come down to? Here's my take. The US has a culture of patriotism and honouring the offices of the nation - the President for instance. They see their country as the "best country in the world". In Australia we have a larrikin disrespect or at best cynicism about our politicians. Our greatest veneration is held for the ANZACs - those poor blokes who were slaughtered through Churchill's and more generally British incompetence in 1915. We extend that feeling to the people who have died in most of the wars since.
Yet that isn't an across-the-board feeling in society - not by a long chalk. We tend to respect the "old" diggers of the first and second world wars more than wars since. We have trouble with the Vietnam war - many still believe we shouldn't have been there and find it hard to feel positive about those who served there. Vietnam tore at Australia from the inside. That in turn caused hardship for those service men and women who returned from Vietnam.
Without being negative about Australia I think it is unlikely that we would see a scene here such as that described by this blogger: Fallen Soldier
So you are the people who know. Tell me what it is that's different and why, between Australia and the US in the way we feel about our countries and those who serve in our military. Or is my view an outsiders view and do many people in the US feel indifferent or indeed negative about these things?
I don't know the answers. What I do know is that one death or wounding is one too many for the families, the friends and all those left behind, not to mention the person themselves.
2 weeks ago