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Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes

We don’t know what we think about war

Ten years after the invasion of Iraq, 53 percent of Americans now say the war was a mistake, according to a new Gallup poll.

That number means little without context, so let me supply the baffling shift in opinion over the last decade.

Back in 2003 at the outset of the war, only 23 percent thought this was a mistake, or as Sen. John Kerry famously called it, “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.” In reality, 23 percent opposition is nothing in this day and age as public opinion polls could find 23 percent opposed to ice cream, sunsets or puppies.

Fast forward to 2008 and a full 63 percent lined up on the “mistake” side of the ledger when it came to Iraq. Pretty solid number as it’s hard to get 63 percent of Americans to agree on the time of day. But here’s where it gets tricky.

In 2013, the 10-year anniversary of hostilities and the number of people who look back on the Iraq war as a mistake has DROPPED to 53 percent? Really?

The cynic in me might point to 2008 as a year of hyper-partisan politics and a Democratic candidate running on an anti-war platform, specifically trying to hang the wars of the previous president on the Republican candidate. And you could argue he managed to convince people that what they “felt” about Iraq was wrong and in order to be a good Democrat you must be opposed to anything Bush did. Period.

Or, you could look at these fluctuations as a prime example of “time heals all wounds.” The same poll showed the number of people who thought the Vietnam war was a mistake has dropped over 10 percentage points in just the last 10 years! At this rate, give it another 10 years and our history books may be calling Vietnam our largest military victory!

What I find most interesting are the opinions based on age. There was a time when the younger generation was opposed to war and took to the streets in opposition. Civil unrest, mass protests and more characterized an entire generations attitude towards conflict. Ask the younger generation today (18 to 29) and you will find a nearly 180 degree shift. Not only are they MORE supportive of ALL wars than their parents or grandparents, but they also view previous wars in a much more positive light than those who lived through or fought in them.

There may be no clearer example of the adage, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”


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