The non-partisan Pew Research Center has issued a report comparing the views of of U.S. military veterans with civilians on the U.S. military. In one of the study's key points, a third of the veteran respondents said the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not worth fighting.
Still, the veterans are more supportive on the war effort than the non-military public. The study finds 45 percent of civilians said they didn't think both wars were worth it. The initial question lumped the wars together, so the Pew researchers decided to dig a little deeper, and questioned the respondents about each war separately.
When asked about Iraq, 44 percent of vets say the battle there has been worthwhile. And support for military efforts in Afghanistan is even higher: 50 percent of veterans say the conflict there has been worth it. When civilians are asked about each war separately, 41 percent see the conflict in Afghanistan as worth it, while support for the Iraq war falls to 36 percent.
That's not the only startling difference the researchers turned up between the veterans and civilians. The Pew Center says a lopsided majority of veterans - 84 percent - say the American public doesn't understand the problems faced by people who serve in the military.
The problems the vets report are disturbing. Nearly half say readjusting to civilian life is tough, including facing trouble within families. Some vets have had "frequent outbursts of anger" while others say they're detached from life. And four of 10 combat veterans suspect they've developed post-traumatic stress syndrome; even if they haven't been formally diagnosed, some say they continue to relive terrible experiences in nightmares and flashbacks.
The Pew report says 71 percent of the questioned civilians agreed they do not understand the problems of veterans.
The Pew researchers say they want to bridge this gap. Their report begins with a quote from former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, in a recent speech to the 2011 graduating class at West Point:
"I fear they do not know us," Adm. Mullen said of the nation's civilians. "I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle."
The study finds an overwhelming majority of American civilians have a high opinion of military service members and pride in the U.S. military is at its highest point in decades. But it's a pride many civilians apparently don't want to share. The Pew researchers say a little less than half of the civilian respondents would recommend the military as a career to a young person. About 82 percent of veterans would urge a young person to do so. The study notes:
Overwhelmingly, the public sees that members of the armed forces and military families have made a lot of sacrifices since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Less than half believes that the American people have had to make a lot of sacrifices. But most of those who say veterans and their families have sacrificed more than the public say the disparity is part of military life.
And the disparity may be tied to the attention civilians pay to the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. The report finds over the last two years, about a quarter of Americans said they paid close attention to either war.
The full Pew study is called The Military-Civilian Gap: War and Sacrifice in the Post 9/11 Era.