Political Animal


March 18, 2013 10:20 AM So Much For Those Antiwar Youth

By Ed Kilgore

Another meme we’re hearing a lot of in connection with CPAC is that libertarianism (or some variant thereof) is the wave of the future on the Right because young folk are free of those antediluvian prejudices based on religion, and are far less inclined to share militaristic impulses on foreign policy or national security issues.

While there is ample evidence that hostility to LGBT folk and their rights varies directly according to age across virtually every boundary of party and ideology, it would be a mistake to extrapolate such “libertarian” views to other “social issues” (younger people are at most mildly more pro-choice than their elders), and to issues of war and peace.

This latter point is made plain in a startling new Gallup survey that finds support for the righteousness of American wars of the recent and somewhat more distant past inversely associated with age.

That’s right: when asked if it was a “mistake” for the United States to send troops to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam, 18-29 year-olds were the most hawkish of the major age cohorts on all three wars, and over-65s the most dovish. The most stunning gap is over Vietnam, where under-30s think it was “not a mistake” for the U.S. to send troops by a 53-41 margin, while over-65s think it was a mistake by a 70-23 margin. The only gap that rivals that one in the survey is between Republicans and Democrats on Iraq, where the former say sending troops was not a mistake by a 66-30 margin, and the latter say it was a mistake by a 73-22 margin.

Gallup doesn’t give us cross-tabs by party and age, but it does make you wonder if young Republicans may be super-hawks rather than libertarian non-interventionists. And I personally have to wonder what kind of history instruction under-30s have received when it comes to Vietnam.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on March 18, 2013 10:32 AM:

    I'm sure that the lesson from Vietnam that they heard from their Conservative elders was, that it wasn't for lack of trying that we lost, it was it was due to the DFH's and Liberals back home, protesting, that we didn't win that war.

    "Barbarians INSIDE the gates," so to speak.

    And believe you me, if there was a draft, a lot of these rich white young Republicans, would be doing a 180 against war.

    They know that, unless something really catastrophic happens to them or their families, they'll never have to see any military action that's not part of a computer game.

    Phil Ochs once wrote, "It's always the old who lead us to the wars, and always the young who fall."
    Now, we can change to to "young, and non-white who fall."

  • jim filyaw on March 18, 2013 10:33 AM:

    no mystery here. the past is key. look at how many republico-chickenhawks of acquarius age actually served. then, look at the machinations they went through to avoid service (three years exile peddling a bicycle through france, annoying the frenchmen for instance). i hear cheney is addicted to moving toy soldiers around a board at home (helluva lot easier than traipsing through triple tier). in short, its damned easy to be pro-war when you don't intend to get your own hands dirty. decades after the fact, you can protest your own bravery over those who actually served.

  • Milt on March 18, 2013 10:40 AM:

    The under-thirty crowd at Republican gatherings are products of the wing nut and NRA propaganda, that being we are under constant threat and we must settle everything with a gun. So it is not surprising those kids believe it is good and just to visit pain and death upon countries that do not kowtow to our wishes.

  • Tigershark on March 18, 2013 10:47 AM:

    I wonder if those views would change if the draft was instituted?

  • Anonymous on March 18, 2013 10:48 AM:

    Sadly, Not a surprise.

    Massive well-financed, unrelenting propaganda exercises work. Those black POW-MIA flags everywhere, the constant gee-whiz military TV shows, air shows, military concerts, Rambo movies, etc - have a huge effect. Add that to the wish of so many young men to be "tough" and you get a horrible result.

    The sad truth that almost every US military action (with the exception of WW II and Korea was a disaster just isn't allowed to permeate the classroom or our consciousness. WW I -300,00 dead - world falls apart. Iran 1953, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, etc.

    Eisenhower knew what he was talking about - the skewing of our whole nation because of the constant military buildup was incredibly dangerous. And it also proved Washington right too

  • boatboy_srq on March 18, 2013 10:57 AM:

    I personally have to wonder what kind of history instruction under-30s have received when it comes to Vietnam.

    This is a joke, yes? Half of them can't even find Vietnam on a map...

  • Cantank on March 18, 2013 11:07 AM:

    Its more the fetishization of the military over the past 30 years. Those kids have grown up with "thank you for your service" and soldiers at halftime in football games, and all sorts of other cues that lead to adoration of the military being innate.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on March 18, 2013 11:08 AM:

    Well, those who have forgotten--or never knew--the past are most likely to repeat it.

    And people who are the furthest from harm's reach are quite satisfied to see said harms go into effect, be it war or weak gun restrictions. Especially if they feel that too many restrictions might be infringing on whatever little path to glory they might be contemplating.

    In any event, I would like to know the logic that this cohort use to decide that going into our recent wars/conflicts were not mistakes. I guess it would be mildly reasonable, though overly simplistic, to believe that these conflicts were about removing really bad people from power. I'd also like to know what they would consider mistaken military action or inaction?

  • Celui on March 18, 2013 11:26 AM:

    I was a Vietnam-era protester, draft-eligible (and drafted, but failed the physical) high school history teacher. Of course, our textbooks were written before Dienbienphu, and nobody was addressing imperialism in SE Asia or wars of national liberation. I contacted my cousin, an Army grunt corporal on his second tour of Nam, and asked if he'd come by and talk with my students when he was home for his mother's funeral. He did so, addressed each of my six classes, answered all sorts of questions (except those that were about 'what's it like to kill') and exhibited the kind of honesty that only a real soldier could share. He did so at my request, and not to brag. My students were incredulous as to why the US had any reason to be in SE Asia, and what ends we could possibly hope to achieve there, given the massive casualty rate. Only after the war, only after a (reasonable) accounting of those KIA and MIA was made, only after the Wall in DC went up, and only after the crushing effect of those names was made so evident, were many of this war's atrocities made known. My car was festooned with a bumper sticker "War is good business--invest your son". At a reunion for the classes from those years, one of the young men stopped me and thanked me for asking my cousin to come to class. He said that this had helped form his political approach to his own future. He asked about my cousin. I sadly told him that my cousin died from exposure to defoliants used in Nam. An expendable life unnecessarily expended.

  • mudwall jackson on March 18, 2013 11:54 AM:

    "This is a joke, yes? Half of them can't even find Vietnam on a map..."

    and neither could the generation that fought the war. some things never change.

  • Peter C on March 18, 2013 11:54 AM:

    Well, some days you are just hit with the fact that you are getting old. I’m almost 50, so I was too young to be drafted for Viet Nam, but I grew up with its horrors in plain sight. I’ve never heard any convincing case that it was anything other than a horrible mistake. In their minds, what was the good that resulted, I wonder?

    I think this phenomenon is an offshoot of the absurd and mindless repetition of the idea that Obama and the Democratic party are ‘socialists’, combined with a blanket ignorance of history. If you start with a high base-line of ignorance about a war supposedly fought to prevent the spread of communism, and add on an appalling amount of specific ignorance about what communism and socialism are, and throw in the unavoidable disdain that youth have for their elders (even in the best of times), and you’ve explained much of this result.

  • martin on March 18, 2013 12:03 PM:

    According to the CPAC crowd, the only thing wrong with the Vietnam war was we didn't win it. And we didn't win it because Washington didn't let us. It's all ancient history to the under 30 crowd (how many think we went to Vietnam because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor). It was a "Noble Cause" botched by the liberals in Washington.

    At least we got good restaurants out of the deal.

  • Anonymous on March 18, 2013 12:13 PM:

    I'm not sure the "youth" have ever been particularly anti-war; I recall seeing Vietnam-contemporary polls that showed an inverse correlation between age and support for intervention at the margins -- in other words, college students not at elite institutions were more likely to support the war than persons who had experienced WW2.

    (Someone with JSTOR can fact-check me here: relevant citations would be Erskine's "Is War a Mistake?", Public Opinion Quarterly 34 (Spring 1970) and Lunch & Sperlich's "American Public Opinion and the War in Vietnam," WPQ 32 (March, 1979))

  • boatboy_srq on March 18, 2013 12:15 PM:

    @Peter C and mudwall jackson:

    Riffing off my earlier comment, I wonder (from what I hear from the younger Teahadists) whether "Gawdless Librul Soshulism" isn't dogwhistle for "those Other people arming themselves to kill Righteous Ahmurrcan Patriots™ and take away their women/land/jobs"...

  • Josef K on March 18, 2013 12:19 PM:

    From German poet Bertolt Brecht:

    On the wall was written with chalk:
    'We want the war'
    The one who wrote it, has already fallen.

    Until its their families torn apart, their brothers and sisters coming home in coffins, the Tea Partiers will be the ones with chalk in their hands. As a friend once noted to me, the loudest victory parades are always the furthest from the battlefield.

  • mb on March 18, 2013 12:50 PM:

    It's pretty clear that we, as a nation, have never really confronted the entirety of "Viet Nam." That has allowed myths like "we could've won if we'd just been able to really fight 'em" prevail. Louie Gohmert recently held forth on this view at CPAC. I heard no response -- not that the D's should have someone ready and waiting to respond to the likes of Louie Gohmert, but I never hear anyone on the left take the time to encapsulate the massive failure of the Viet Nam experience. And so nonsense like that spouted by Gohmert stands and prevails.

    I'll be 55 in May. I received a BA in history in 1982, well after the end of the war. I can't ever remember being formally educated about Viet Nam war. I had absorbed the view that Gohmert espoused -- it was kind of in the air in the South where I grew up. I don't remember when I came across them, but two numbers changed my mind and pretty well blew it, too. One was the shear tonnage of TNT that we dropped on Viet Nam as compared with that dropped on the Nazis and the other was the number of Vietnamese we killed. You can't look at those two numbers and continue to believe that we "held back."

    Our cause was wrong. We need to embrace that view as our national dogma vis a vis Viet Nam. We were wrong and we were defeated as much by the wrongness of our cause as anything.

  • Citizen Alan on March 18, 2013 2:16 PM:

    When people say we "could have won" Vietnam, they mean we could have engaged in a campaign of outright extermination against the North Vietnamese until they were all dead and "our Vietnamese" (i.e. the ones who would accept being a French colony in order to survive) were the only ones left. That is the victory the Right wanted, the same victory that Hitler sought in his own adventurism. Nothing short of a genocidal campaign would ever have achieved the outcome that the Teabaggers would call a "victory."

  • ninja3000 on March 18, 2013 2:32 PM:

    I'm pretty sure a lot of those 18-29-year-olds would sing a different tune if they found a letter in their mailbox that began with "Greetings"...

  • rayspace on March 18, 2013 4:08 PM:

    Before we go too far on this...it's Gallup. Not exactly holding up the high end of industry standards these days.

  • Big Bill on March 18, 2013 4:40 PM:

    I teach college kids the history of the World since 1945. Not only can they generally not find Vietnam on a map, they have almost no idea that it even happened, what it meant, or why it mattered. I was born after Vietnam ended so I absorbed the war through history books, movies, and popular culture. However, my parents talked about it frequently so it was something I was curious about; most of the parents of today's college kids were too young to fight. That means that the war just doesn't resonate with the young today, who are apathetic about Iraq and Afghanistan, much less that other neo-colonial war from way-back-when that some of their old uncles fought in.

    I honestly believe that the Right has waged a brilliant campaign for the last 40 years to dilute education in this country to the point where the masses are so uneducated they will believe almost anything. Whether that was intentional is unclear, but it sure has been effective.