Over break, I watched the HBO World War II miniseries Band of Brothers. Every time I watch the series, the patriotism of American society during that time in our history astounds me to a greater degree. How was a war of such a large scale so widely supported and how did that support continue despite heavy casualties on both fronts? In comparing this patriotic fervor of World War II with our nation’s current conflicts in the Middle East, it seems at times that the patriotism evidenced during the the 1940s is seriously lacking from today’s American society. World War II was supported and aided by civilians throughout, while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been repeatedly called into question throughout recent years, despite remarkably similar beginnings. This apathy and condemnation of the War on Terror by the public makes recent calls for American troops in Libya seem preposterous.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, our entire nation was calling for war. Within days, the papers were signed and the United States was at war with Germany and Japan. Compared to the attacks almost 10 years ago on Sept. 11, the situations are very similar. After the attacks in 2001, there was a similar call to arms by a large majority of the population which resulted in troops being deployed. The rage felt for Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden was a palpable emotion among American citizens—we were quite literally out for blood. If the initial support for the war was so similar, why has support for our current operations in the Middle East dropped off so rapidly?
One possible explanation is that the casualties which occur every day in the Middle East persuade the American public that the wars are no longer worth the lives invested. However, here’s an interesting comparison: American participation in World War II lasted from 1941 to 1945. In those four years, 416,800 American soldiers were killed. On the other hand, over the course of eight years in Iraq and 10 years in Afghanistan, 5,845 American soldiers have been killed. Granted, there were far more American troops involved in World War II, but the difference in magnitude is still astounding. While I can’t emphasize enough that each and every one of those deaths is an absolute tragedy, it is remarkable that two wars so widely supported at their outset could result in almost the opposite public sentiment of what would be expected. It would seem that a war with heavy casualties would be condemned while one that averaged fewer would be more widely supported. However, World War II, which resulted in an average of more than 100,000 casualties per year, was extremely well supported by the public, both financially and emotionally, throughout all four years, while the current operations in the Middle East, which average around 650 casualties per year, are being condemned by an increasingly large portion of the American population.
Perhaps the War in Iraq hasn’t offered such remarkable successes as World War II did. The fall of Saddam’s regime in Baghdad was remarkable, as were the battles of Fallujah, but beyond that, have there been great headline battles like D-Day, Iwo Jima, or the Battle of the Bulge that will ring in our nation’s memory 50 years from now? If this is the reason our operations in the Middle East lack public support, it is somewhat embarrassing. Are Americans that prone to exceptionalism that they ignore the daily grind of our soldiers just because they aren’t winning huge battles which are cleverly named? It certainly shouldn’t make their daily struggle less important.
Whatever the case of the general public apathy, at this point the majority of Americans agree that it is time for our troops to withdraw. According to a poll from The Huffington Post, 71 percent of voters said that Americans “should have [withdrawn] a long time ago,” while another 25 percent said that “now is the right time [to withdraw].” Only 4 percent of the voters said that the troops were necessary for security in the Middle East. Though President Barack Obama has already started responding to the wishes of his citizens by ending the War in Iraq, it is time he acquiesces to an even greater extent. In light of this reversal, it seems that the American population needs to do a better job making up their minds in the future.
With so many Americans condemning the operations in the Middle East, it’s astounding to me that the government is considering sending troops to another country. With Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi crushing the massive uprising of his constituents, many have spoke of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya, or even sending in troops to quell the violence. If the American public is already showing (at best) apathy over our current operations, why start another? Our military budget is already at $685.1 billion, 4.3 percent of our GDP in 2008 and also one of the highest in the world—China, in second place, spends $98 billion. The entire European Union, 27 countries, spends about $323 billion militarily—less than half of the U.S.
The idea isn’t only irresponsible financially, it is irresponsible politically, as well. Many nations were appalled by our invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. If the government were to insert the American military into yet another undeveloped country, the international perception of Americans as interferers forcing their political views on the weak would be further reinforced. No matter how much good we accomplish in Libya, the outcry would still be enormous. Even Americans agree. In a poll hosted by NPR, 84 percent of voters said that American troops should not get involved in Libya, a telling statistic which reveals that America’s immediate priorities lie far from increased military involvement.