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Paying the Human Costs of War:
American Public Opinion and Casualties in Military Conflicts
Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver & Jason Reifler

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009

Paperback | 2009 | $36.95 | £30.95 | ISBN: 9780691139081
280 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 13 line illus. 48 tables.
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From the Korean War to the current conflict in Iraq, Paying the Human Costs of War examines the ways in which the American public decides whether to support the use of military force. Contrary to the conventional view, the authors demonstrate that the public does not respond reflexively and solely to the number of casualties in a conflict. Instead, the book argues that the public makes reasoned and reasonable cost-benefit calculations for their continued support of a war based on the justifications for it and the likelihood it will succeed, along with the costs that have been suffered in casualties. Of these factors, the book finds that the most important consideration for the public is the expectation of success. If the public believes that a mission will succeed, the public will support it even if the costs are high. When the public does not expect the mission to succeed, even small costs will cause the withdrawal of support.

Providing a wealth of new evidence about American attitudes toward military conflict, Paying the Human Costs of War offers insights into a controversial, timely, and ongoing national discussion.


"Gelpi and Feaver, and Reifler have produced a most fascinating volume on the human costs of waging war. They set out to understand under what conditions Americans would support their leaders' decision to use military force. . . . Well researched and thoughtfully written."--Choice

"Policy makers would be wise to heed the authors' findings regarding how to gain public trust and support when contemplating the future use of military power in achieving national objectives. For the citizenry, however, a warning also emerges: national leaders may attempt to keep a sinking policy ship afloat by remaining publically optimistic even when nothing can be done to save it."--Walter E. Kretchik, Military History

"[T]he book is straightforward, well organized and a pleasure to read."--Thomas C. Shaw, American Review of Politics

"One measure of a book's quality is whether it generates questions for future research, and this one certainly fits the bill."--Jennifer L. Merolla, Perspectives on Politics

"[T]his is a well-thought-out, well-organized and well-written book. In particular, the concluding summaries at the end of each chapter provide excellent reviews and syntheses of the arguments. The authors have posed many questions that should open new horizons for scholars and policy makers."--Cigdem Pakel Atahan, Journal of American Studies of Turkey


"Paying the Human Costs of War, an ambitious and provocative new book by three distinguished military commentators, takes on the conventional wisdom that Americans are skittish about casualty numbers, and argues instead that the American people have a much more sophisticated calculus about decisions associated with fighting and dying. A deeply important read for policymakers, military commanders, and the interested public alike."--Kurt M. Campbell, Center for a New American Security

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Table of Contents:

CHAPTER ONE: Theories of American Attitudes toward Warfare 1
CHAPTER TWO: America's Tolerance for Casualties, 1950-2006 23
CHAPTER THREE: Measuring Individual Attitudes toward Military Conflict 67
CHAPTER FOUR: Experimental Evidence on Attitudes toward Military Conflict 98
CHAPTER FIVE: Individual Attitudes toward the Iraq War, 2003-2004 125
CHAPTER SIX: Iraq the Vote: War and the Presidential Election of 2004 167
CHAPTER SEVEN: The Sources and Meaning of Success in Iraq 188
CHAPTER EIGHT: Conclusion 236

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Christopher Gelpi:

Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Peter D. Feaver:

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