Separating Attitudes Toward War from Attitudes Toward Soldiers on Veteran’s Day

Today is Veteran’s Day and I would like to express my profound thanks for the sacrifices that soldier’s make in service to our nation.  I may not agree with the decision to go to war in some cases or with the utility of war in general, but soldiers do not make those decisions.  Politicians do.  Once they are made, soldiers are the ones who make the sacrifices necessary as a result of those decisions, including the potential ultimate sacrifice, and there is something truly noble and selfless about being willing to risk one’s life for others.  While the decision to go to war can be partisan, supporting the individual people who carry out military policy is usually bipartisan, and today, Obama honored troops in Korea while incoming House Speaker Boehner joined Vice President Biden in a bipartisan show of support at Arlington National Cemetary.

However, some people have trouble separating their attitudes toward war from their attitudes toward soldiers, especially the more liberal among us.  As a liberal myself, I can understand the cognitive dissonance that may arise from the idea of supporting those who carry out policies that we find destructive.  On the conservative end of the spectrum, it may seem dissonant to think that people can oppose a war and still support the people involved in the war.

In our dataset, attitudes toward our troops do indeed appear highly related to attitudes toward war.

And this no doubt contributes to lower feeling thermometer ratings among liberals in terms of attitudes toward troops, though I should point out in the below graph that the midpoint of the scale is 4, so the range of mean attitudes toward soldiers ranges from neutral (very liberal) to extremely warm (very conservative), with no group being against our troops.  Of course, mean values are to be taken with a grain of salt for our dataset, given its non-representativeness, but here is a similar Gallup finding.

It may be hard to do, but especially on Veteran’s day, I think the civil thing to do for liberals is to attempt to separate their negative attitudes toward specific war decisions from their attitudes toward our nation’s troops, perhaps populating the upper left quadrant of the first graph above where negative attitudes toward war coexist with positive attitudes toward soldiers.   At the same time, perhaps those who support specific war decisions can take liberals at their word, that most of us do support our troops, even if we might have made different decisions about the policies that led to their deployment.

- Ravi Iyer

ps.  If you want to more fully explain liberal-conservative differences in feelings toward soldiers using our dataset (reducing ideology beta to .122, p=.055), you can add differences in identification with country (“How close do you feel to people in your country?”, beta=.215) and authoritarianism (“Our country needs a powerful leader, in order to destroy the radical and immoral currents prevailing in society today.”, beta = .221) to attitudes toward war (“War is sometimes the best way to solve a conflict.”, beta = .387) in a regression model.



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