How long has the War on Terror been going on? Long enough that most Americans can’t remember exactly when it started, according to a new poll out this week.
The report, commissioned by the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation, found that only 35 percent of individuals surveyed could correctly point to Sept. 11, 2001 as the start of America’s ongoing military engagement against terrorist groups worldwide.
Almost a quarter of 1,019 individuals polled said they thought the conflict had been going on for at least 30 years. Another 39 percent said they could not identify how long the effort has lasted.
The report comes as officials from the foundation are pushing to build a memorial to the troops who served in the War on Terror on the National Mall, an idea that 63 percent of respondents supported.
“This year’s Veterans Day celebrations are tempered by the sobering reality of a national knowledge gap about the Global War on Terrorism,” said Foundation President and CEO Marina Jackman in a statement.
“Our nation needs a memorial on the National Mall to give the millions of Americans who visit Washington, D.C. every year — especially young Americans — the opportunity to learn about an essential piece of modern American history.”
All U.S. forces departed from Afghanistan at the end of August, ending the nearly 20-year military presence there. But several hundred U.S. troops are still deployed around the world in support of anti-terrorism operations including in places like Iraq and Syria.
At least 7,063 U.S. service members have died in operations related to the War on Terror.
Congress approved plans for a Global War on Terror Memorial in 2017, even before plans for a military exit from Afghanistan were underway. At the time, organizers argued that waiting until the end of all related military operations before building the memorial was impractical, because of the open-ended nature of the conflict.
For the last few months, supporters have held a series of rallies and demonstrations on Capitol Hill to push for the memorial to be located on the National Mall, arguing the military sacrifices of the last two decades warrant inclusion in the place of prominence.
But doing so would require intervention from Congress. In 2003 — just a few years after the war in Afghanistan began — lawmakers approved the Commemorative Works Act, which prohibited any construction on the National Mall. Only a few exceptions to the rule have been made since then.
Jackman said that locating the memorial on the site would honor veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other related locations “in the same way as our patriots who fought in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.”
The poll also found that 42 percent of respondents did not know anyone who had served in overseas operations during the War on Terror. Officials said that “likely deprived them of first-hand knowledge about the significance of GWOT veterans’ efforts.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.