Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave an elegant, sweeping speech at Duke University where he commented on the growing divide between America's armed forces and its civilian population.
The social divisions of class and inequality have always run through the military. Fighting forces have long been drawn disproportionately from lower-income, lower-skilled, and more economically disadvantaged populations. But what is new, according to my colleague Patrick Adler at the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI), is the degree to which those class divisions are underpinned by geography.
The map above, compiled by MPI's Zara Matheson, shows the concentration of military personnel across the 50 states.
In the early 1990s, researchers chronicled the rise of the "Gunbelt" - the concentration of military assets and personnel in a strip of states on the coasts and across the Sunbelt. Gates reminds us that base closures and realignment efforts are leading to even greater geographic concentration.
"Basing changes in recent years have moved a significant percentage of the Army to posts in just five states: Texas, Washington, Georgia, Kentucky and here in North Carolina. The state of Alabama, with a population of less than 5 million, has 10 Army ROTC host programs. The Los Angeles metro area, population over 12 million, has four host ROTC programs. And the Chicago metro area, population 9 million, has 3."
While the U.S. is engaged in two wars, the military makes up a smaller percentage of the American population than it ever has. As Gates himself notes:
"There is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally and geographically have less and less in common with the people they have sworn to defend..."
The military's growing geographic divide adds to the increasingly uneven, spiky, and fractured reality of America's economic, political, and cultural life.