Invisible Inequality: The Two Americas of Military Sacrifice

91 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2016 Last revised: 22 Dec 2016

See all articles by Douglas L. Kriner

Douglas L. Kriner

Cornell University - Department of Government

Francis X. Shen

University of Minnesota Law School; MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

Date Written: August 15, 2016


Through a series of empirical investigations — including analysis of over 500,000 American combat casualties from World War II through Iraq and Afghanistan — we show in this Article that there is growing socioeconomic inequality in military sacrifice and that the relative invisibility of this inequality has major political ramifications. Today, unlike in World War II, the Americans who die or are wounded in war are disproportionately coming from poorer parts of the country. We argue that these Two Americas of military sacrifice constitute invisible inequality because the issue is routinely overlooked by scholars, policymakers, and the public. We then use seven original surveys of American public opinion to uncover a variety of social, legal, and political consequences of this inequality. With Congress unlikely to act, and courts unwilling to intervene, we argue that the best path forward is to generate a renewed public debate over inequality in military sacrifice. To this end, we show empirically that such a conversation could transform public opinion. Ignoring inequality in military sacrifice is both morally comforting and politically beneficial. But it is at odds with empirical reality, and, most importantly, with our American ideals of shared sacrifice.

Keywords: military, inequality, casualties, veterans, mental health, brain health, income inequality, combat, iraq, afghanistan

JEL Classification: D63, L14

Suggested Citation

Kriner, Douglas L. and Shen, Francis X., Invisible Inequality: The Two Americas of Military Sacrifice (August 15, 2016). 46 Memphis L. Rev. 545 (2016), Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-43, Available at SSRN:

Douglas L. Kriner

Cornell University - Department of Government ( email )

Francis X. Shen (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

Minneapolis, MN
United States

MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior ( email )

55 Fruit Street
Boston, MA 02114
United States

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