1 in 3 Iraq and Afghanistan Vets See Wars as Waste
One in three U.S. veterans of the post-9/11 military believes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth fighting.
“One in three U.S. veterans of the post-9/11 military believes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth fighting, and a majority think that after 10 years of combat America should be focusing less on foreign affairs and more on its own problems, AP‘s Robert Burns reports (“Poll: 1 in 3 Vets Sees Iraq, Afghan Wars as Wastes“).
This is the finding of an exhaustive survey by the highly regarded Pew Research Center (“War and Sacrifice in the Post-9/11 Era: The Military-Civilian Gap“).
As the United States marks the 10th anniversary of the longest period of sustained warfare in its history, the overwhelming majority of veterans of the post-9/11 era (96%) are proud of their military service. At the same time, more than four-in-ten (44%) report that they have had difficulties readjusting to civilian life, and 37% say that – whether or not they have been formally diagnosed – they have suffered from post-traumatic stress. While post-9/11 veterans are more supportive than the general public, just one-third (34%) say that, given the costs and benefits to the U.S., the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have both been worth fighting.
The nation’s post-9/11 wars have been fought by an all-volunteer active-duty military made up at any given time of just one half of one percent of the U.S. population. More than eight-in-ten (84%) of these modern-era veterans say the American public has little or no understanding of the problems that those in the military face. Most of the public (71%) agrees. Many Americans also acknowledge that since the 9/11 attacks, the military and their families have made more sacrifices than the public at large. But even among this group, only 26% say this gap is “unfair,” while 70% say that it’s “just part of being in the military.”
What’s interesting about these findings is that those who fought in these wars are actually more enthusiastic about them than the public at large.
- Veterans are more supportive than the general public of U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even so, they are ambivalent. Just half of all post-9/11 veterans say that, given the costs and benefits to the U.S., the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting. A smaller share (44%) says the war in Iraq has been worth it. Only one-third (34%) say both wars have been worth fighting, and a nearly identical share (33%) say neither has been worth the costs.
- About half of post-9/11 veterans (51%) say relying too much on military force creates hatred that leads to more terrorism, while four-in-ten endorse the opposite view: that overwhelming force is the best way to defeat terrorism. The views of the public are nearly identical: 52% say too much force leads to more terrorism, while 38% say using military force is the best approach.
- About six-in-ten post-9/11 veterans (59%) support the noncombat “nation-building” role the military has taken on in Iraq and Afghanistan. The public and pre-9/11 veterans are less enthused. Just 45% of both groups say they think this is an appropriate role for the military.
- While nation building gets mixed reviews, large majorities of veterans and the public support the use of unmanned “drone” aircraft for aerial attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Nearly nine-in-ten (86%) veterans of all eras say this is a good thing; 68% of the public agrees.
- Both the public and veterans oppose bringing back the military draft. More than eight-in-ten post-9/11 veterans and 74% of the public say the U.S. should not return to the draft at this time.
The first breakdown is a bit of a head-scratcher. Half say Afghanistan was worth it and a healthy 44% say the same of Iraq. Yet, only 34% say both were worth it. This means that 10% of those who think Iraq was worth fighting think Afghanistan wasn’t!
The profile of those currently serving on active duty is of interest, too:
- The military in the post-9/11 era is older than the force that served a generation ago. While about two-thirds of active-duty military personnel are ages 30 or younger, the average age of enlisted personnel and officers has increased significantly since the draft ended in 1973.
- The percentage of minorities in the ranks of enlisted personnel and officers has increased significantly since 1990. In 2009, more than one-third of all active-duty personnel were minorities (36.2%), an increase from 25.4% about two decades ago. Women also comprise an increasing share of all active-duty officers and enlisted personnel.
- Today’s enlisted personnel are better educated than those who served before them. Fewer are high school dropouts and more are college graduates. In 2009, 92.5% of recruits were at least high school graduates, compared with 82.8% of comparably aged civilians.
- At a time when marriage rates are declining in the broader population, the share of active-duty military personnel who are married has increased dramatically in recent decades. Today, a majority of all enlisted personnel are married (53.1%), up from 40.1% in 1973. Overall, those in the military are significantly more likely to be married than are civilians of a comparable age.
As to the larger question raised by the survey, that the sacrifices of these wars is falling entirely on a tiny, self-selected segment of society, I addressed that at length in “Civilian Control, Not Citizen Soldiers,” an essay for The American Conservative back in April. All manner of dangerous, necessary jobs fall on those who have volunteered to take them on. While there are unhappy social consequences of this fact, it’s far outweighed by the professionalism of the modern force and simply the nature of specialization and division of labor of a modern economy.