The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday May 31st

Americans Still Support War

Many see the military strikes on Afghanistan as an inevitable response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

The mainstream American response, from the halls of the U.S. Capitol to the lunch counters in Midwestern farmlands, has been a call to arms to rid the world of such threats.

Many Americans wanted a swift military response, and that is what they have received.

But the far-reaching implications the attacks will have on American society remain to be seen.

A recent Gallup Poll found nine out of 10 Americans support the recent strikes on Afghanistan, which are now in their third week. Eighty percent of those polled support the use of ground troops.

Polls also show that American concerns about military, defense and foreign policy issues have risen significantly since the attacks.

The military began satisfying the public's cry for action through a series of strikes against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban government, believed to be supporting Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Political leaders have called for expansive changes in military policy, vastly altering Bush's foreign agenda, which has been viewed by many as isolationist.

Although early evidence exists that the public is ready for a long campaign, no one knows how long the American public will be willing to support a sustained military effort.

A Gallup poll from Sept. 14-15 found that 86 percent of Americans will support a campaign lasting several months. Sixty-six percent of those polled said they would support efforts lasting several years.

More recent polling suggests the public's support of a long war has not declined significantly since the attacks. An Oct. 7 ABC/Washington Post poll found 82 percent of Americans believe the strikes began a long war, not brief military action.

But how will far will the American public, a body usually centered on domestic issues, be willing to pursue issues abroad?

The U.S. Congress has been hesitant to support foreign involvement in the last few years. But the public has had a much greater support for international involvement, said Professor Robert Blendon of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

"There has not been a withdrawal of Americans wanting to be involved with (foreign issues)," Blendon said.

In the spring of 1999, U.S. troops intervened in Kosovo, Yugoslavia, to prevent Serbian actions against the native Albanians.

But support of American involvement in Kosovo hovered around 50 percent, according to a March 1999 Gallup Poll, a stark contrast to the overwhelming public approval of present military operations.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, both government officials and the public have begun to discuss a series of actions against those who perpetrated the attacks.

Blendon said the attacks will influence U.S. policy toward all other nations as the U.S. attempts to secure allies. Other foreign issues will be put aside for the time being, he said.

He explained that the government might be less critical of issues between India and Pakistan as well as human rights violations in Syria in exchange for the military support. "We are likely to mute our negative positions," he said. "(Their cooperation) will change our ability to be active in these issues."

The United States has dropped sanctions on a number of countries, including India and Pakistan, to encourage them to join a coalition against terrorism.

Blendon said a critical question following the war will be how involved the nation will get in specific foreign conflicts, including issues between Israel, Palestine and the Gulf states.

While Blendon said some Middle Eastern leaders want the United States to stay out of their matters, he said it is likely the United States will change its foreign policy in the region.

Even as America enters into a new conflict, it is uncertain whether popular support for an extended campaign will be sustained, or whether support is motivated only by the desire for quick revenge.

UNC sociology Professor Judith Blau said she suspects the latter. "When the nation is attacked, everyone becomes a loyal patriot," she said. "It is not a reflective response."

Blendon offered a different scenario, suggesting the American desire to eliminate terrorism will be an important factor in national opinion in the coming years.

Richard Kohn, chairman of UNC's curriculum in peace, war and defense, also said he envisions a strong public alliance behind the military aimed at ending the terrorist regimes and taking steps to prevent further attacks on the United States. "Americans are more than willing to devote their resources to (the defensive and offensive campaigns)," he said.

Kohn explained that citizens realize the consequences of active military movements, and this recognition explains why Americans haven't demanded immediate action. "Americans are pretty practical, and the fact that they are not demanding instant retaliation reveals that they have a fundamental understanding of how difficult this will be and how long it will take."

Although Americans might understand the scope of the pending conflict, Princeton sociology Professor Paul Starr said Americans were virtually uneducated about the Middle East before Sept. 11.

"We've been ignorant about this region of the world," Starr said. "I think many people may have had difficulty finding Afghanistan on the map."

But some say a tendency toward native tunnel vision is not a recent trend.

Starr said that while post-World War II America had an internationalist frame of mind, the government has focused more on domestic issues in the past decade, a phenomena he attributed partly to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He said the U.S. presidential elections of 1992, 1996 and 2000 dealt more with domestic issues.

"During this period the American public was chiefly concerned with domestic issues, in part because it did not see a comparable threat to the Soviet Union," Starr said.

Americans polled in July 2000, four months prior to the most recent presidential election, cited national defense as an important priority. But defense ranked behind issues such as education, health care and the economy.

Starr said the recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon building have turned the public's eye to the other side of the globe.

"People now realize that distant events and places can impact their lives," he said.

But Kohn said Americans pay closer attention to international issues than some might believe.

"I think there is more interest in foreign affairs than people think," he said. "The American people know that our economy is intertwined with (foreign nations)."

Kohn also debunked the argument that American arrogance has been a precipitating factor for the attacks.

He said a backlash against America stems from military governments' desire to push the United States out of the region and replace moderate and conservative powers with radical figureheads.

But Blau supported the argument that the United States has displayed arrogance through the globalization of American corporations, a movement that has offended many foreign factions.

"The symbols of global capitalism displace local cultures, and culture becomes homogenized," she said, adding that the rapid rate at which economic transformations have occurred have taken some nations aback.

"This has been harsh medicine for developing nations to take after the Cold War dislocations," Blau said. "The 1990s was a period of extraordinary affluence," she said. "I think (the events of Sept. 11) brought an end to this giddiness."

But Blau said she is optimistic about more amiable interaction with foreign nations, in an attempt to learn more about outside cultures. "At this University we see so much interest in working with people," she said. "I am more confident in this generation than in previous generations."

The State & National Editor can be reached at

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