Event ReportsPublished on Jul 01, 2011
Dr. Paul Joseph, Fulbright-Nehru distinguished chair, Tufts University, US, argues that there are two types of opposition to war inside the US, which proves that Americans are becoming more peaceful.
Are Americans Becoming More Peaceful?
"Are Americans becoming more peaceful?". This was the theme on which Dr. Paul Joseph, Fulbright-Nehru distinguished chair, Tufts University, Madison, US, spoke at the weekly interaction at the Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation on January 7, 2011. At the outset, the speaker clarified that the topic pertained to US involvement in mobilised and conditional wars. He gave glimpses about the US defence expenditure, which, he pointed out, is more than that of all other powerful countries of the world. The US has more than 100 bases around the world, and American soldiers and Marine troops are stationed in various countries.

Dr. Paul Joseph argued that there are two types of opposition to war inside the US, which proves that Americans are becoming more peaceful. Falling under the first category are Americans who in principle are opposed to war. The second type involves those who oppose wars because they are sensitive to the 'costs'. He pointed out how American involvement in the two World Wars was popular nearer home, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki made it unpopular. Against this, the Vietnam War made it despicable for most Americans. Conscription was a key element in all past wars, but this could not be continued for long. Now, it is on a voluntary basis, and it is a professional military fighting American wars, with 15-16 per cent of them being women.

The speaker also raised the question: "Who is the Enemy -- the nation, people, government, or an 'evil regime'?" His next question: "Who dies?" From the days of World War I, the US has lost lives and money in a big way, for maintaining international peace and law. Anything between 30 and 40 per cent of the US GDP went into fighting the World War II. The Vietnam War claimed 58,000 American lives while 1,400 US soldiers lost their lives in the Afghan War in 2003. The US also took the blame for loss of hundreds of civilian lives in Vietnam and Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq. The use of B-52 bombers that destroyed many civilian villages is still a controversial issue.

Focussing on the public linkage to war in social terms, Dr. Paul Jospeh observed that 25-30 per cent Americans supported war, and in this they could be considered 'more patriotic' than their European counterparts. There was overwhelming support for the post-9/11 US-led 'Global War on Terrorism' in Afghanistan. The large number of American soldiers and Marines who enrolled during the World War II belonged to both the genders, and also came from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. For instance, African-Americans and Japanese-Americans fought alongside the rest, and this contributed towards an attitudinal change in the society. There is now a greater sensitivity towards the use of photographs of dead soldiers, with the Bush Administration banning them though the successor Obama Government has reversed the decision.

The speaker analysed media as a factor influencing American public opinion in a big way. He argued that the media created a war-hysteria at times, which in turn hindered any progress towards peace. Today, 80 per cent of the viewers of Fox News in the US believed that hanged Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11 attack and was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Only 23 per cent of NBC viewers thought otherwise.

(This report is prepared by Shahank Singh, II Year MA (History), Loyola College, Chennai)

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