What changed in the way Americans viewed war, from World War II to the Vietnam and Iraq Wars?
Yael Freiberg '11 ('08-'09)

During World War II, the American people generally supported the war. Then came the Vietnam War, which was fairly disastrous in the eyes of the public, and now the Iraq War is headed down the same path. What changed?

World War II (1941-1945)

Americans first became involved in WWII when the country acted as the “arsenal of democracy,” meaning it supplied munitions to Allied countries, even in a state of neutrality. The U.S. was instigated into becoming an active Ally: When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the government was finally able to have a rationale for becoming fully involved—and the people supported it, because they were attacked on the home front and would not stand for that. Not only that, but they had heard of the horrible happenings being committed by the Axis powers. They saw this involvement as a war against evil, in the name of justice and democracy, and threw themselves into the war effort with gusto. The government kept this level of commitment up by creating the Office of War Information, responsible for censorship and highly effective pro-war propaganda (e.g. advertising, film, etc.) that declared anyone not helping the troops unpatriotic. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it protecting “the American way of life.” As the country pulled itself further out of its economic ditch and regained hope that things were finally looking up, its morale received a big boost.


Vietnam War (1964-1975)

U.S. foreign policy after WWII focused on containing the spread of communism (“containment”). The U.S. pledged to support noncommunist South Vietnam against communist North Vietnam in the 1950s—a simple enough plan as far as containment goes. However, this ended up dragging America into an unwanted war. There was a very widespread antiwar movement during this time, exemplified by everything from peaceful protests to violent riots. The war turned out to be very draining on financial resources. The newly drafted army recruits died in droves. Those who came home alive were injured and/or traumatized for life and received no welcome whatsoever—they were not seen as heroes. And for all this useless wasting of resources, America did not emerge victorious from many campaigns and in the end did not win the war. The government was not clear about what exactly was happening and lost credibility. When Nixon was elected president in 1970, he initiated Vietnamization—the process marking the beginning of the end of the war (e.g. pull out the troops)—but went back on it later on, losing even more government credibility and marking the age when Americans really began to distrust their government. They were demoralized and unhappy with the whole business.


Iraq War (2003-present)

Following reports of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), President Bush began a War on Terror in Iraq, succeeding in toppling Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime, next focusing on “bringing democracy to the Middle East.” In the beginning, many people were anti-war, but many others were pro-war. However, when reports that the WMDs were never located were released, support for the war rapidly declined. The government used false claims, either knowingly or unknowingly, the latter of which should have warranted more investigation, to begin an international war. Also, this war is very costly in terms of funds and lives (this sounds a bit like the Vietnam War). People not just in the U.S.A. but all over the world as well protested this war even before it began.



U.S. involvement in WWII was seen as heroism and justice. Involvement in Vietnam, due to demoralization and a lack of a tangible threat to the nation, was seen as useless and wasteful. Involvement in Iraq is, as of now, seen in a similar light to Vietnam. Many people are still unclear on how President Bush even ended up in Iraq if involvement in the Middle East originated in Afghanistan in 2001.
So what’s the change? This is it: Starting in the 1950s, Americans began to see war in a different light. After the failure of American neutrality in WWI+II, Americans began to look at war with a grain of salt, though this is not to say that that lack of neutrality was unjustified. War is very costly, especially when overseas, so perhaps the general mindset was that if it did not directly affect the country, there was no use getting involved and losing more lives.

(There should be a video here, but it refuses to embed. Here is the URL instead: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fI1lhfI17xM&feature=related. Only the protest scene is relevant.)

Works Cited:

“Iraq War.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 29 May 2009. 29 May 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_War
Murrin, John M., Paul E. Johnson, James M. McPherson, Gary Gerstle, Emily S. Rosenberg, and Norman L. Rosenberg. Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People: Concise Fourth Edition. Belmont: Thom son Wadsworth, 2007.
Newman, John J. and John M. Schmalbach. United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination. USA: Amsco School Publications, 2006.
“Opposition to the Iraq War.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 17 May 2009. 28 May 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_to_the_Iraq_War
“Popular Opinion in the US on the Invasion of Iraq.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Apr 2009. 26 May 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_popular_opinion_on_invasion_of_Iraq
“What was American public opinion during World War 2?.” WikiAnswers.com. Answers Corporation. 2009. 29 May 2009.

I apologize for how badly written this is, but I just can't deal with this project anymore. That, and I'm six minutes away from the deadline.