Explaining Decisiveness in War: How Wartime Experiences Affect Post-War Beliefs and Produce Peace

What makes a war’s outcome decisive? Although historians and military strategists have long stressed the need to strive for a decisive victory in war and political scientists have identified the unique effects of decisive outcomes in war, there is little agreement on what decisiveness is or how to achieve it during a war. In this dissertation, I propose a new definition of decisiveness as the degree to which all actors at the end of a conflict hold strong, similar beliefs about each side’s long-term relative military power. I argue that information drawn from experiences during a war can shape the beliefs of individuals on each side in several ways that differ from standard rationalist explanations. More consistent experiences during a war over a greater period of time that directly affect a greater proportion of individuals on each side should all contribute to making a war’s outcome more decisive.

Non-Dissertation Papers in Progress: 

Casualties, Success Perceptions, and Public Support for Military Operations [with Christopher Liu]
Prepared for Presentation at the 2018 Meeting of the International Studies Association

Existing studies of casualty sensitivity tend to focus on the relationship between battle deaths and support for a given war among the mass public. Some studies find a negative effect of increased casualties on support while others find that beliefs in future success may outweigh casualty concerns and keep support high. We intervene in this debate in three ways. First, we investigate casualties in the context of short-term military operations as opposed to the large-scale wars that have characterized most of the recent literature. Second, we experimentally and independently manipulate casualties and success perceptions in order to isolate the causal effect of each on approval for a specific hypothetical military operation. Third, we investigate {\it why} casualties and/or success may impact approval. We find that the perception of success—more so than casualties—affects approval of military operations. In addition, we find that any negative effect of casualties is concentrated among subjects low on vengefulness, while the effect of success is primarily mediated by beliefs about mission importance. We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings in the context of several recent military operations.

The Effect of Political Violence on Political Partisanship: Evidence from Alabama in the American Civil War
Poster Presentation at the 2015 Peace Science Society Conference

What is the effect of political violence on the political beliefs and behavior of those who are affected by such violence? Recent studies of the effects of violence suggest a variety of positive effects on group cohesion and engagement, but few studies have focused specifically on partisan political beliefs and behavior. In this paper, I argue that deadly personalistic violence can have a powerful effect on post-war political beliefs by hardening certain cleavages among individuals in areas that experienced such violence. Using evidence from the American Civil War, I exploit the presence of a “pretest” in the various secession votes before the Civil War began to account for pre-war political sentiment along the secessionist cleavages. Using genetic matching, I generate balanced matched groups of counties accounting for the pre-test and several controls and examine the effect of deadly violence on later political results. These quantitative results suggest that violence had a modest but longstanding impact on partisan vote share in presidential elections that emerges about two decades after Reconstruction and lasts until the middle of the twentieth century. Qualitative evidence from a set of matched comparison counties supports the results and emphasizes the strength that personalistic violence can have on memory and political behavior.