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America’s veterans try to find purpose in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars - The Washington Post


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The burdens of war have been heavy for the past 12 years, but they have not been carried widely.

Fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s population — more than 2.5 million men and women – has served in the post-9/11 wars. And save for a few dramatic moments, such as the surge in Iraq or the aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the nation has never fully immersed itself in these conflicts. Our limping economy, the government shutdown or celebrity news are far more likely to occupy news broadcasts or dinner conversations than Iraq or Afghanistan. This estrangement of the nation from its armed forces manifests itself throughout The Washington Post’s veterans survey.

The most consequential answers relate to the wars themselves, and whether Iraq and Afghanistan veterans think they were worth fighting. Just 44 percent and 53 percent of the veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, believe they were. The veterans polled support their wars more than civilians do, suggesting a true civilian-military divide on whether the post-9/11 wars were worth the costs in spirit, blood and treasure.

But the veterans’ answers may reveal something deeper: a profound ambivalence about these wars, even years after coming home, and a lingering sense that our leaders deployed us to fight wars the nation did not believe in.

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