The prospect of casualties
How did the prospect or actual occurrence of casualties affect support for the war?
On the way to war, Americans were concerned about many aspects of the situation, including the likelihood of casualties, and support varied according to the way the situation was defined and which aspects were emphasized. This is shown in Figures 5.15 and 5.16, which cover the period up to the beginning of the war.
Before the outbreak of the war, two polls explored the impact of different scenarios which emphasized the risks and human costs in various degrees of severity, but did not face respondents with possible trade-offs and the need to weigh this against other conditions such as the degree of international legitimacy or the purposes for which the war would be fought. As was to be expected, the less risky forms of war drew considerably more support than the more risky ones, as did those where the number of casualties would be fewer.
Remarkable about Figure 5.15 is that it reflects the fear of casualties that would be entailed in sending ground forces rather than bomb from the air, as in the Kosovo (in 1999) case. Also to be noted is the relative popularity of sending an international force, which reflects the need felt for international support either among allies or the UN, by a number of the American public.
Interestingly, the Zogby poll, the results of which are shown in Figure 5.16, was one of the rare American polls exploring the impact of
Figure 5.15 Should US go to war under different conditions? (in % support) Source: PSRA/Newsweek.
civilian casualties. It appeared that this particular scenario produced the lowest figures of support, even lower than when the question referred to 'thousands of American casualties'.
Other risks, such as those involved in sending large numbers of ground forces, or the risk of 'hundreds of American casualties' clearly also weighed less heavily than the negative impact of the lack of international or UN support. Clearly, an air war with few risks was the preferred
Explaining the Evolution of Attitudes on War 195
Figure 5.16 Support for a war in Iraq. The role of casualties and other conditions (in % support)
option, while the likelihood of Iraqi military casualties did hardly put any weight into the scales.
Incidentally, Figure 5.16 also shows that over time other considerations began to prevail in public opinion, thereby reducing the impact of the fear of the potential human and other costs of the war.