Vietnam and Iraq tie for third biggest mistake in American history

February 11, 2014, 11:35 AM GMT+0

Slavery and the treatment of Native Americans top the list of our country's biggest historical mistake, while the Iraq and Vietnam Wars tie for third place

This August will mark 100 years since World War One began in 1914, the year when Europe nearly destroyed itself and in the process dragged the United States into its first major overseas war. British historian Niall Ferguson recently said that Britain's decision to enter the First World War was the "biggest error in modern history".

YouGov decided to ask Americans: What event or decision was the biggest mistake in American history? 1,000 American adults submitted what they think was the greatest blunder in our history, and from that a shortlist of the eleven most common suggestions, excluding elections, was compiled.

By a wide margin, Americans tend to say that slavery (30%) was the biggest mistake in American history. This is followed by the treatment of the Native Americans (12%) and then the Iraq and Vietnam Wars, each chosen by 8% of the public. 7% of the public say that establishing the income tax was the biggest mistake, while 4% think that the Citizens United decision was the worst. 15% of Americans say that something else, not on the shortlist, was the biggest mistake.

All in all, 16% of American said that America's two most divisive foreign wars were also our country's worst errors. Democrats (10%) were much more likely than Republicans (3%) to say that the Iraq War was the greatest error, consistent with YouGov research from January which shows that just over half of Americans (54%) say that invading Iraq was a mistake, but 59% of Republicans think that it was the right decision.

Republicans were, however, marginally more likely than either Democrats (10%) or Independents (5%) to say that the Vietnam War was the biggest mistake the U.S. has ever made.

Though the Iraq and Vietnam Wars may be equally likely to be viewed as geopolitical blunders, far more Americans fought in - and were killed in - the Vietnam War. Overall, 58,209 Americans died during the Vietnam War compared to 4,488 in the Iraq War. High casualty rates don't necessarily mean, however, that Americans regard wars as historical mistakes. 9% of Americans said that victory over Germany and Japan in World War Two was the best moment in American history, even though over 400,000 Americans died during World War Two.

Full poll results can be found here.

Image: Getty

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