Thursday, December 26, 2013

Steven Casey's "When Soldiers Fall"

Steven Casey is Professor in International History at the London School of Economics. His books include Cautious Crusade and Selling the Korean War, which won the Harry S. Truman Book Award. His new book, When Soldiers Fall: How Americans Have Confronted Combat Casualties from World I to Afghanistan, is published by Oxford University Press in January 2014.

Casey applied the “Page 99 Test” to When Soldiers Fall and reported the following:
The idea that public support declines as combat casualties increase has achieved the status of conventional wisdom in American debates about war. Indeed, although challenged by numerous political scientists, it has become almost an iron rule, whose essential truth is frequently cited by analysts, commentators, and politicians alike; according to one account, it is even enshrined in current U.S. Army doctrine.

World War II offers the one exception to this rule. In the United States, the so-called “good war” remained popular to the end, despite the lengthening casualty rolls as American forces approached Berlin and Tokyo.

Page 99 of When Soldiers Fall focuses on the impact of casualties during the final phase of this war. In contrast to the simple claim that popular support wanes as casualties rise, this page—like the book as a whole—reveals a much more complex reality.

For a start, key voices in the domestic debate did not concentrate solely on current losses, but also speculated about the potential cost of invading Japan, with some predicting a U.S. death toll of up to one million. Crucially, such staggering prospective losses did little to undermine domestic support for an invasion. The memory of Pearl Harbor remained too raw, the fighting since 1941 too bitter.

Still, even during the “good war,” decision makers never entirely discounted the corrosive impact of excessive casualties. Roosevelt had long set the tone. Vividly recalling the public’s strong desire to remain out of the war before Pearl Harbor, FDR had constantly sought hi-tech, low cost ways of taking the fight to the Axis powers, from the strategic air campaign to constructing an atomic bomb.

In 1945, Roosevelt did not live to see the fulfillment of his technowar strategy. Instead, he bequeathed the decision about whether to drop the atomic bomb on Japan to his successor, Harry S. Truman. To discover Truman’s motives for using the bomb, as well his successors’ casualty-related actions in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, the reader will have to go beyond page 99 to the end of the book.
Learn more about When Soldiers Fall at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: When Soldiers Fall.

--Marshal Zeringue