Surveys find the young most supportive of military action. Older citizens are skeptical.
Matthew Gardner, a 19-year-old Maryland college student, believes the United States must use force to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"He's really capable of anything," says Mr. Gardner, who worries about Iraq's potential use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. "The only thing you can do is go to war - it's unavoidable."
Retired Air Force pilot Frank Houde, who recently joined tens of thousands of antiwar protesters in Washington, D.C., holds a different view: "Peace is patriotic."
Upsetting stereotypes of Vietnam-era protests by flower-draped co-eds and flag-waving veterans, younger Americans are more likely to support the use of military force against Iraq than are senior citizens, recent surveys suggest.
Americans aged 18 to 29 back US military action by a 3-to-1 margin (69 percent to 23 percent). In contrast, support falls to 51 percent among those aged 65 or older, 31 percent of whom oppose a war against Iraq, according to three surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
The apparent generation gap over Iraq is rooted in starkly different experiences of war, as well a universal tendency for seniors to view the world with a more cautious, jaded eye, whereas young adults feel bolder and more "bulletproof," experts say.
Older Americans' outlook on war has been shaped by long, bloody conflicts such as World War II and the Vietnam War. By contrast, people in their late teens and 20s have come of age in an era of relatively antiseptic conflicts with few US casualties.
"Today's generation, to the extent they have experienced war apart from computer games, have lived through the Gulf War, which was very quick, successful, and relatively bloodless," says William Galston, a public affairs professor at the University of Maryland. He directs a center that promotes research on the civic engagement of Americans aged from 15 to 25.