America has never been a stranger to war.
In our relatively short history as a nation, we've fought a lot of them: 11 official wars and numerous other domestic and international military conflicts, collectively resulting in huge numbers of casualties on both sides of the battlefield.
It's a sober fact we're meant to be reminded of on Memorial Day, particularly in light of the nearly 7,000 U.S. troops killed, and the many more wounded, over the last decade in our most recent and ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But today, even as the U.S. military continues to grow more inclusive, most Americans are much less likely than previous generations to either be involved in an armed military conflict or to know a friend or family member serving in one. This is in large part because the military has been an all-volunteer force since the end of the Vietnam War.
As Paul Waldman of the American Prospect noted in his 2014 article:
"The number of Americans who were in uniform peaked during the national mobilizations of World War I and World War II, particularly the latter, when more than 16 million Americans were in the armed forces. As a proportion of the population, 14 times as many Americans served in World War II as did in the wars of the last decade."
Another stark disparity is the rate of U.S. fatalities in today's conflicts as compared to those in even the recent past. In Vietnam, Waldman writes, there was one death for every 58 soldiers deployed. In both World War I and World War II, that rate was about one in 40. And during the Civil War, it was an astounding one in five. "That of course meant that many more Americans would know someone who died."
In short, modern American warfare has become less a national sacrifice than it once was, with a significantly smaller percentage of the nation's population bearing the burden.
The chart below shows U.S. war deaths per official military conflict. Keep in mind that some of these figures, particularly those from older conflicts, are rough estimates. Sources are listed below.