Why are so few Americans willing to defend their country?


For many of us war voyeurs watching the news with a glass of sherry, admiration of the little-engine-that-could Ukrainian fighters is underwritten by unease. As families escape to safety, plenty of feisty Ukrainians are remaining behind to battle a far more powerful aggressor, and they’re not all men, either. The question nags, then: in the same circumstances, would we stick around to defend our homelands, or would we cut our losses and get out?

Earlier this month, that’s precisely what a Quinnipiac poll asked Americans. Some 7 per cent answered ‘Don’t know’. But an astonishing 52 per cent of Democrats predicted that they’d skedaddle. Among Republicans, a full quarter would carpool with the hightailing ‘to hell with this!’ Democrats, while 68 per cent would stand their ground – or think they would. Among all respondents, 55 per cent would stay and fight, while 38 per cent would flee. Scaled up, that would be 125 million Yanks storming from the Land of the No Longer Free and the Home of the Not Especially Brave all at once. Quite a stampede.

As Matthew Hennessey observed in the Wall Street Journal, these answers are especially surprising because nothing compelled these folks to tell the truth. People often deceive pollsters, especially when an honest reply seems socially unacceptable. That’s why Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 caught pollsters so unawares: many Trump supporters kept their ostensibly odious voting intentions to themselves. Those Quinnipiac respondents confronted only a pencil-pushing pollster, not a Russian tank crashing through their living room. Surely they’d have been tempted to lie to please – or to show a shred of self-respect. Jesus, they might at least have lied to themselves – imagining that, under duress, they’d rise to the occasion, even if this assumption entailed unwarranted optimism about the extent of their physical courage.


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