Friday, March 6, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

When will they ever learn?

By
From page A10 | January 12, 2014 |

By Lawrence S. Wittner

When it comes to war, the American public is remarkably fickle.

The responses of Americans to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars provide telling examples. In 2003, according to opinion polls, 72 percent of Americans thought going to war in Iraq was the right decision. By early 2013, support for that decision had declined to 41 percent.

Similarly, in October 2001, when U.S. military action began in Afghanistan, it was backed by 90 percent of the American public. By December 2013, public approval of the Afghanistan war had dropped to only 17 percent.

In fact, this collapse of public support for once-popular wars is a long-term phenomenon. Although World War I preceded public opinion polling, observers reported considerable enthusiasm for U.S. entry into that conflict in April 1917. But, after the war, the enthusiasm melted away. In 1937, when pollsters asked Americans whether the United States should participate in another war like the World War, 95 percent of the respondents said “no.”

And so it went. When President Truman dispatched U.S. troops to Korea in June 1950, 78 percent of Americans polled expressed their approval. By February 1952, according to polls, 50 percent of Americans believed that U.S. entry into the Korean War had been a mistake.

The same phenomenon occurred in connection with the Vietnam War. In August 1965, when Americans were asked if the U.S. government had made “a mistake in sending troops to fight in Vietnam,” 61 percent of them said “no.” But by August 1968, support for the war had fallen to 35 percent, and by May 1971 it had dropped to just 28 percent.

Of all America’s wars over the past century, only World War II has retained mass public approval. And this was a very unusual war — one involving a devastating military attack upon American soil, fiendish foes determined to conquer and enslave the world, and a clear-cut, total victory.

In almost all cases, though, Americans turned against wars they once supported. How should one explain this pattern of disillusionment?

The major reason appears to be the immense cost of war — in lives and resources. During the Korean and Vietnam wars, as the body bags and crippled veterans began coming back to the United States in large numbers, public support for the wars dwindled considerably.

Although the Afghanistan and Iraq wars produced fewer American casualties, the economic costs have been immense. Two recent scholarly studies have estimated that these two wars ultimately will cost American taxpayers between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. As a result, most of the U.S. government’s spending no longer goes for education, health care, parks and infrastructure, but to cover the costs of war. It is hardly surprising that many Americans have turned sour on these conflicts.

But if the heavy burden of wars has disillusioned many Americans, why are they so easily suckered into supporting new ones?

A key reason seems to be that that powerful, opinion-molding institutions — the mass media, government, political parties and even education — are controlled, more or less, by what President Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.” And, at the outset of a conflict, these institutions usually are capable of getting flags waving, bands playing and crowds cheering for war.

But it is also true that much of the American public is very gullible and, at least initially, quite ready to rally ‘round the flag. Certainly, many Americans are very nationalistic and resonate to super-patriotic appeals. A mainstay of U.S. political rhetoric is the sacrosanct claim that America is “the greatest nation in the world” — a useful motivator of U.S. military action against other countries. And this heady brew is topped off with considerable reverence for guns and U.S. soldiers. (“Let’s hear the applause for our heroes!”)

Of course, there is also an important American peace constituency, which has formed long-term peace organizations, including Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and other anti-war groups.

This peace constituency, often driven by moral and political ideals, provides the key force behind the opposition to U.S. wars in their early stages. But it is counterbalanced by staunch military enthusiasts, ready to applaud wars to the last surviving American. The shifting force in U.S. public opinion is the large number of people who rally ‘round the flag at the beginning of a war and, then, gradually, become fed up with the conflict.

And so a cyclical process ensues. Benjamin Franklin recognized it as early as the 18th century, when he penned a short poem for “A Pocket Almanack For the Year 1744″:

War begets Poverty,

Poverty Peace;

Peace makes Riches flow,

(Fate ne’er doth cease.)

Riches produce Pride,

Pride is War’s Ground;

War begets Poverty &c.

The World goes round.

There certainly would be less disillusionment, as well as a great savings in lives and resources, if more Americans recognized the terrible costs of war before they rushed to embrace it. But a clearer understanding of war and its consequences probably will be necessary to convince Americans to break out of the cycle in which they seem trapped.

— Lawrence S. Wittner is a professor of history emeritus at State University of New York/Albany. He is syndicated by PeaceVoice

Comments

comments

Special to The Enterprise

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
    ‘Topping out': Sign a building beam at the Shrem Museum

    By Jeffrey Day | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Life after lawn: Fifty greens for shade

    By Katie F. Hetrick | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Bay Area developers join Mace proposal

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

    Trial ordered in Davis child death case

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

     
    Bob Dunning: There’s an exception to every rule

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

    Ukraine declares heavy weapons pullback from front line

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    NASA craft circling Ceres in first visit to dwarf planet

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    CHP car hit with bullet on highway

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    UCD police warn of sexual battery incident

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Got sun? Indoor herbs can thrive on windowsills

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

     
    How can we know that the products we buy for our homes are safe?

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Quick home improvements that raise your resale value

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Spring-clean your kitchen in five easy steps

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    Dryers: Homes’ energy guzzlers just got greener

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

     
    Need a new best friend?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6 | Gallery

    UCD improving farming, food production with fewer pesticides

    By Kathy Keatley Garvey | From Page: B6 | Gallery

     
    PSAs highlight area nonprofits

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B6

    Peripheral neuropathy support offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Workshop eyes creating peace through creative play

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Museum brick sales to end this month

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

    Cabrillo Club plans membership dinner

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Waldorf’s spring tea party doubles as open house

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Register online for Woodland rec classes

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    Older adults will discuss conscious aging movement

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7Comments are off for this post

    Pig out at Pig Day Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    Porkers on display at Hattie Weber Museum

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    St. John’s shows off cuisine at brunch

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

     
    Seniors serious about fitness

    By Savannah Holmes | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    .

    Forum

    Obama’s world is a dangerous place

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: B4

    Some convicts don’t deserve parole hearings

    By Tom Elias | From Page: B4

     
    Here’s how to make college cheaper

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

    Dirty laundry on the company line

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B9

     
    .

    Sports

    Marsh provides radio images of a ‘magical’ Aggie hoops season

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Blue Devil volleyballers cruise in home opener

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    DHS girls track and field team reloads for 2015

    By Dylan Lee | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD women fall at UCR

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Aggie men clinch Big West crown

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Sports briefs: Bella Vista slips past DHS softballers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12

    .

    Features

     
    Rec Report: Looking ahead to spring break

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

    What’s happening

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: B5

     
    Wineaux: A local diamond in the rough, revisited

    By Susan Leonardi | From Page: A9

    .

    Arts

    Steve Kiser’s work on display at Gallery 1855

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    Tables available at Vinyl and Music Fair

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

    ‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel': Second-rate

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A10 | Gallery

     
    ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ auditions set

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

    Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlasela celebrate Mandela’s legacy

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    Learn from experts at ‘Art of Painting’ conference

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12 | Gallery

    Tom Brousseau to visit ‘Live in the Loam’ on KDRT

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

     
    .

    Business

    Honey, we shrank the SUV — and Europe loves it

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, March 6, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B10