Casualties and Consensus

The Historical Role of Casualties in Domestic Support for U.S. Military Operations

by Eric V. Larson

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It is often said that the Vietnam War taught us that the American public is no longer willing to tolerate American casualties in U.S. wars and military operations. There are also two contradictory corollaries: one that the first deaths in a conflict will spark demands for immediate withdrawal, the other that casualties lead to an inexorable demand for escalation to victory. The truth is far more subtle and sensible. The simplest explanation consistent with the data is that public support for U.S. military operations and public tolerance for casualties are based upon a sensible weighing of benefits and costs that is influenced heavily by consensus (or its absence) among political leaders. When such agreement is missing, even low costs can erode public support for the intervention. In the end, most Americans do not want lives to be sacrificed for any but the most compelling and promising causes, and they rely on their leaders to illuminate just how compelling and promising these causes are.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    The Bases of Support

  • Chapter Three

    Polarization Over Commitment

  • Chapter Four

    Leadership Consensus and Dissensus

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusions

  • Appendix

    Public Opinion Data

Book Review Excerpts

"A thorough examination of some very sophisticated issues presented in an easy-to-understand and concise format. Casualties and Consensus is an excellent study of an important issue, and is of use to students and researchers in military studies, all aspects of political science, and history. This work is highly recommended for all libraries."

- Academic Library Book Review

"Highly informative, very well researched, Casualties and Consensus is a valuable contribution to the national dialog."

- The Midwest Book Review

"Both informative in an academic sense and useful to those who would plan, command, or make policy regarding the use of U.S. military forces."

- U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings

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