Take Two: Are Americans Really in Love With War?


Yesterday I wrote that the American public is “in love with war.” This was obviously a bit of a rant, born of frustration with our seemingly bottomless tolerance for addressing foreign policy problems in suitably small countries with military force. Greg Sargent pushed back with some polling evidence, and Daniel Larison takes things a step further:

Far from being “in love” with war, a better way to think of the public’s reaction is that they have been whipped into a panic about a vastly exaggerated threat by irresponsible fear-mongers. Most Americans support the current intervention because they wrongly think it is necessary for U.S. security, and they have been encouraged in that wrong view by their sorry excuse for political leaders.

I got this same kind of pushback from several people, but I really think this is a distinction without a difference. As it happens, my primary point was actually the same as Larison’s: that the American public is very easily whipped into a war frenzy. In the case of ISIS, all it took was a couple of atrocities on YouTube; a bit of foaming at the mouth from the usual TV permahawks; and a presidential decision to take action. Obama didn’t even need to wave the bloody shirt. In fact, he’s been relatively restrained about the whole thing. Still, he did commit us to military action, and that was enough. Public support for bombing ISIS went from 39 percent to 60 percent in a mere twelve weeks.

Does this mean the American public is in love with war? Or merely that when a war is proposed, they can be persuaded to support it pretty easily? I submit that there’s not really a very big difference between the two.