Pew Research conducted a large scale survey of veterans (divided into pre and post 9/11) and civilians on their attitudes toward the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. While there have been a number of news reports on the results, they are actually somewhat confusing because the findings in the data aren’t easily boiled down to snappy summaries.
For instance, the headline of this post, which is similar to typical MSM headlines, is technically accurate but somewhat obscures the survey results. From Pew:
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.
In other words, the support of both wars is less than robust among those who have seen combat (but many combatants are positive about one of them). And no wonder why. Again from Pew:
44% of post-9/11 veterans say their readjustment to civilian life was difficult. By contrast, just 25% of veterans who served in earlier eras say the same. About half (48%) of all post-9/11 veterans say they have experienced strains in family relations since leaving the military, and 47% say they have had frequent outbursts of anger. One-third (32%) say there have been times where they felt they didn’t care about anything.
Nearly four-in-ten (37%) post-9/11 veterans say that, whether or not they were formally diagnosed, they believe they have suffered from post-traumatic stress (PTS). Among veterans who served prior to 9/11, just 16% say the same.
These psychological and emotional problems are most prevalent among post-9/11 veterans who were in combat. About half of this group (49%) say they have suffered from PTS. And about half (52%) also say they had emotionally traumatic or distressing experiences while in the military. Of those who had these types of experiences, three-in-four say they are still reliving them in the form of flashbacks or nightmares.
Overall, about one-in-six post-9/11 veterans (16%) report they were seriously injured while serving in the military, and most of these injuries were combat-related. And about half (47%) say they know and served with someone who was killed while in the military, not significantly different from the share of pre-9/11 veterans (43%) who say the same. The survey finds that post-9/11 veterans who either experienced or were exposed to casualties are more supportive than other post-9/11 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, they also report having more difficulty re-entering civilian life.
This comment by reader Richard Kline helps place this poll in context:
But the implication that a majority, and likely a large majority of _recent veterans_ consider the occupations in West Asia as ‘not worth it’ is both new and significant. On the whole, those in the military have been the biggest boosters for the “let’s go get ’em” approach. Those who actually served in the occupations have had the highest support numbers…But that support _has_ shrunk; collapsed would be a better word judging by the numbers.
The military, specifically the men in the ranks, were going to reach their breaking point with extended, frequent deployments, unprospering occupations, and no viable transition out of the military back into an economically depressed society. I’ve read articles in the last few months that suggest serious morale problems for individuals being deployed to Afghanistan at this point; for instance, gallows humor about the _probability_ of losing limbs appears endemic. The guys on the ground now understand that they’re ground chuck for unwinnable but neverending campaigns. I said that this year—well ‘year,’ July 11-Jan 13—was going to be an important deflection point. And it appears that this is the year that the military loses faith in the policy. That’s a very big deal if so, because the gung ho attitude in the ranks has been what, principally, has undercut antiwar sentiment to this point: the folks on point were for it, so it’s been very hard to sell the ‘against it’ position. The wars will end when the military declines to continue fighting them. Be it soon . . . .
The poll confirms Richard’s thesis about a loss of support for the underlying rationale for these engagements:
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.
The survey shows the veterans are very keen about unmanned drone attacks, which I find surprising given the high rate of civilian casualties they produce and they way that inevitably poisons local opinion against US operations. Perhaps this is enthusiasm for a new tactic that is clearly less costly in the short term where the long term consequences have yet to be seen.