Paying the Human Costs of War: American Public Opinion and Casualties in Military Conflicts

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Paying the Human Costs of War: American Public Opinion and Casualties in Military Conflicts
By Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver, and Jason Reifler
Princeton University Press, 2009
280 pp. $65.00
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The loss of popular support for the Vietnam War triggered a debate about whether Americans would ever support military campaigns that resulted in a significant number of casualties. After the Cold War, the question tended to be how high casualties needed to rise before they started to become significant, and the answer appeared to be not very high. Gelpi and Feaver were among those who wondered whether the assumption of a low tolerance for casualties was entirely correct. In this new book, joined by Reifler and informed by the experiences of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (where casualties accumulated well beyond initial expectations), they return to the issue. Although their data do not take them much beyond the 2004 U.S. presidential election, their analysis is convincing. They take apart the simplistic view that support for a war goes down as casualties go up. By and large, the picture is of the American people weighing the issues as well as they can, taking their cues from the political elite and the media. The conclusion is that the basic aversion is to defeat.