So Much For Those Antiwar Youth

Another meme we’re hearing a lot of in connection with CPAC is that libertarianism (or some variant thereof) is the wave of the future on the Right because young folk are free of those antediluvian prejudices based on religion, and are far less inclined to share militaristic impulses on foreign policy or national security issues.

While there is ample evidence that hostility to LGBT folk and their rights varies directly according to age across virtually every boundary of party and ideology, it would be a mistake to extrapolate such “libertarian” views to other “social issues” (younger people are at most mildly more pro-choice than their elders), and to issues of war and peace.

This latter point is made plain in a startling new Gallup survey that finds support for the righteousness of American wars of the recent and somewhat more distant past inversely associated with age.

That’s right: when asked if it was a “mistake” for the United States to send troops to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam, 18-29 year-olds were the most hawkish of the major age cohorts on all three wars, and over-65s the most dovish. The most stunning gap is over Vietnam, where under-30s think it was “not a mistake” for the U.S. to send troops by a 53-41 margin, while over-65s think it was a mistake by a 70-23 margin. The only gap that rivals that one in the survey is between Republicans and Democrats on Iraq, where the former say sending troops was not a mistake by a 66-30 margin, and the latter say it was a mistake by a 73-22 margin.

Gallup doesn’t give us cross-tabs by party and age, but it does make you wonder if young Republicans may be super-hawks rather than libertarian non-interventionists. And I personally have to wonder what kind of history instruction under-30s have received when it comes to Vietnam.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.