Monday, May 28, 2012

Prussian Americans most likely to serve in the U.S. military

Memorial Day is a good day to look at military data, and it happens to be an opportunity to echo Razib's call to mend, not end, the American Community Survey. The survey asked respondents their ancestry, and if they are now serving or ever served in the military. I limited the sample to native-born Americans and to people ages 20 to 39 in order to focus on a single cohort. I list the percentages who answered yes by their ancestry (sample size = 1.74 million) and since there are as many categories as countries in the world I only list groups with the highest and lowest numbers. The mediocre middle is left out.

Percent serving in the military now or in the past

Above-average groups

Prussian 12.7
South African 12.3
Guamanian 12.2
Germans from Russia 11.4
Okinawan 11.1
Panamanian 10.2
West Indian 9.9
Belizean 9.8
Indonesian 9.8
Scottish 9.4
Dutch West Indies 8.7
Pacific Islander 8.6
Sicilian 8.6
Scots Irish 8.1
Australian 8.0
African 8.0

Below-average groups

Haitian 3.8
Turkish 3.7
Arab 3.4
Egyptian 3.3
Vietnamese 3.0
Israeli 3.0
Iranian 3.0
Armenian 2.8
Palestinian 2.6
Chinese 2.4
Hmong 2.0
Asian Indian 1.9
Taiwanese 1.8
Pakistani 1.3
Macedonian 1.2
Iraqi 0.0

It's great that Prussians come out on top, but I suspect that some military folks are being selective in which part of their ancestry they identify with. The high-serving groups are an interesting assortment. Using GSS data, I reported in an earlier post that West Indians like Colin Powell are more likely to serve than most groups. Pacific Islanders have high numbers as do your well-known tough guys: the Scots Irish and Sicilians.

On the low end, you have Asians and Middle-Easterners. It looks like Muslims (and Israelis for that matter) don't like to serve, but does anyone know the religion of most American Indonesians?  Are they Muslims?

Also--Mexican-Americans, contrary to the claims of some, do not serve in high numbers. Between 4.4 and 5.3 percent serve or have served (depending on whether you focus on the "Mexican" or "Mexican-American" category). That's below the national average of 6.3 percent.


  1. Anonymous5:20 PM

    Scots-Irish may be undercounted here. Scots-Irish often tend to self-identify as just "American".

  2. Black Death7:24 AM

    "Prussian" is an interesting ethnicity, since Prussia hasn't existed as an independent nation since 1871 and hasn't existed at all since 1945. I wonder how many people answering the survey knew this? I suspect many of the "Prussians" thought the term was synonymous with "German," which it certainly is not. There are 16 states in the German Federal Republic, and Prussia isn't one of them. I also noticed that there were no other "German" ethnicities such as Bavarian, Saxon, Hessian, etc. Were these folks all lumped with the "Prussians?" (That wouldn't make them very happy - don't ever call a Bavarian a Prussian). The only other "Germans" were those from Russia, the Volga-Deutsch. Strange.

  3. As I remember Thomas Sowell in one of his books makes the point that Germans are good at all sorts of military matters. He cites Eisenhower as "our" German whom we enlisted to fight the other Germans.

    This is not a popular viewpoint these days, but is it true?

    Almost every military historian had noted that the Nazi infantry were simply better soldiers than those from other nations and ethnicities. On the allied side the best soldiers were usually the British - a largely German descended people . There are many jokes about the ineffectiveness of Italian soldiers and we nowadays call the French "surrender monkeys".

    In fact Italian and French soldiers were plenty brave but they were much less effective in combat. Hitler figured that one German was worth maybe ten Russians. Battlefield stats seem to support that viewpoint. His problem was that there were more like twenty Russians opposing each German not just ten.

    I don't quite undersatnd how it would work but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests that the Germans especially the Prussians are somehow uniquely good at soldiering.


  4. Anonymous3:18 PM

    I suspect that those who have taken the time to study history and geneology to nuance a "Prussian" identity as opposed to a generic "German" one is a likely candidate for military service. Seriously, who in this country knows anything associated with the word "Prussian" other than things military?

  5. I think that the - "nobody knows anything about Prussians" - remark was aimed at me. Probably true. But in my defense let me point out that I also don't know much about Lithuwanians (I don't even know how to spell it).

    Last year I read biographies of all the Founding Fathers. I also read a couple big books on Egyptian history. The year before that I read a half dozen books on Gettysburg. The rest of the Civil War is still a mystery to me. Before that I spent a year on Chinese history. The year before that I read nearly a dozen books on Middle Eastern history. And of course I have always read Roman history - original sources (in translation), modern historical analysis, and historical fiction.

    I have always felt guilty that I never have read Thucydides. I read five Victor Davis Hanson books also last year and that helped me feel less inadequate. I am acutely aware that I've never really learned the history of India except for the Michael Wood TV shows.

    I've read enough history of the High Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period to not feel too unbalanced. I know English History only from the Shakespeare plays and the Tudor movies. Oh yes and I know about the history around my dog - a King Charles Spaniel.

    So yes, you've caught me out. I don't know a damn thing about Prussia except the obvious connections with Bismarck, German consolidation and their warlike reputation. I confess I'm just one of those ignorant Americans who doesn't appreciate Prussia. I'll try to do better.


  6. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has become surprisingly difficult to enlist in the U.S. military.

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