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Poll: Veterans say US left Afghanistan without honor, and they want to talk about it

Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, boards a C-17 cargo plane at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Alex Burnett)
November 11, 2021

The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan has left a majority of veterans with a lingering sense that America did not leave that war with honor, according to a new poll.

“Veterans are feeling an intense array of emotions regarding the end of the war, including humiliation, betrayal, anger, disappointment, and sadness,” and 70 percent of those polled do not feel like the U.S. departed Afghanistan with honor, the non-profit research group More in Common US reported Wednesday.

Among Americans in general, 57 percent reported they did not feel the United States left Afghanistan with honor, the survey found.

More in Common US had already been looking into how veterans and non-veterans relate to each other when the Taliban began their swift final push across Afghanistan last summer.

“We started to reach out to our partners in the veteran space to say, ‘We think this is a really important moment to try and understand how our veterans process this, how the average American processes this,” said Dan Vallone, executive director of More in Common US and a former Army captain who served in Afghanistan in 2010. “Is it going to further divide the country, or is it an opportunity to come together?'”

So the organization hired a polling firm to ask. From Sept. 29 to Oct. 13, YouGov surveyed 2,537 Americans: 537 veterans, including 103 who served in Afghanistan, and another 2,000 who were a representative sample of the general U.S. population and who never served in uniform.

Their survey found that more veterans than non-veterans reported occasional feelings of alienation.

“59 percent of veterans”—and 76 percent of the Afghanistan veterans—”say they sometimes feel like a stranger in their own country. Only 41 percent of Americans in general feel that way,” the report found.

That sense of alienation is something More in Common is trying to address, Vallone said.

While the poll showed continued high interest in getting veterans help when needed, such as through mental health services or employment opportunities, what popped to the organization was the 82 percent of veterans who expressed interest in creating opportunities to help “veterans and civilians better understand each others’ backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.”

Only 52 percent of veterans said it would be important to them to have their community hold “parades or other community events to thank and acknowledge those who served in Afghanistan.”

But so far, few are talking across that military-civilian divide, the poll found. Seventy percent of the 2,000 Americans in general said they had either “rarely” or “never” talked to an Afghanistan veteran about the war. And Afghanistan veterans reported being more comfortable sharing war stories with other vets, although they were in support of creating connections with non-veterans.

“I think they feel a desire to make sense of this all with people who didn’t serve,” Vallone said. “To have the sense that this war had meaning beyond the military, that it was a national endeavor, that we went to war as a country because of reasons that the whole country was involved in…Those kinds of conversations have to involve folks who didn’t serve.”


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