Reading Jim Webb's powerful piece on economic fairness in the Wall Street Journal last week left me thinking about my old hometown of Booneville, Kentucky.
Booneville is one of those small, centered around the courthouse towns in Eastern Kentucky. The town would be familiar to you, in the sense you know the kids drive around the town square on weekends and there's more churches than grocery stores.
Booneville is in Owsley County, one of the poorest counties in the country. But there's plenty of poor to go around in the rural areas all over the country. These days, the long shadow of economic inequity is cast over all of rural America.
We have watched our jobs disappear though outsourcing. Coal mining, family farms, and the timber industry provide fewer rural jobs every year.
What's left is are fast food jobs, or jobs hours away from our homes. One thing we all know, hard economic times are always a boom times for military recruiters. This is especially true for rural America.
Rural Americans have no shortage of patriotism. We're proud of our service, but in this war it's the failing rural economy sending our sons and daughters to fight. Joining the Army is not just a patriotic move, but a way to get money for college, and in many cases, a way to feed some hungry kids.
The recently released Carsey Report tells us the death rate for rural soldiers in Afganistan and Iraq is 60% higher than the rate of their urban counterparts. You can find the Carsey Report at the Center for Rural Strategies' website (PDF).
Dee Davis, President of Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Kentucky told writer Aaron Glanz in a Oneworld article, "This year we did polling and what we found out was that 75 percent of rural voters knew somebody who had been to Iraq."
I live in a good-sized city. I know there are soldiers from here and I belong to our local VVAW group, but I don't know my city's solders like I did when I lived in Booneville. Most of my friends here don't really know anyone serving in this war either. The people I know serving are friends and children of friends from rural Kentucky, Eastern Tennessee and Southwest Virgina.
There is a fine war memorial in Booneville. My best friend from those days, Ronald McIntosh, has his name on the plaque. He was a young Marine killed outside Danang in 1969. When I heard of his death, it hit me in the gut like a baseball bat. My Uncle Ned died in World War II, but I never knew him as anything but a picture on the wall. I received my draft notice a couple of months after Ronnie was killed, and believe me, at that point, the war was no longer something that happened to other people.
As I grow older, I think more of Ronnie and other brothers who never made it home. I think about all the war memorials in all the small towns of this country, all those names and memories and tears and I wonder--how many more names will there be before we bring our children home from this war?
For rural Americans the war in Iraq is not just the war on TV. When we watch CNN, we are looking for family members and friends. Every knock on the door could be bad news. It is not a just cause. Our sons, daughters, fathers and mothers are dying over there at an alarming rate and they're dying for tuition money and their little piece of this American dream.
I hope you will all visit the Rural Strategies site, read the Carsey Report, see the video report on this issue, and read the full Aaron Glanz article. This is a story the whole country needs to hear.
Agree? Disagree? Post a comment here or contact John Crabtree, firstname.lastname@example.org