How Democracies Lose Small Wars: State, Society, and the Failures of France in Algeria, Israel in Lebanon, and the United States in Vietnam / Edition 1

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In How Democracies Lose Small Wars, Gil Merom argues that modern democracies fail in wars of insurgency because they are unable to find a winning balance between expedient and moral tolerance of the costs of war. Small wars, he argues, are lost at home when a critical minority shifts the center of gravity from the battlefield to the marketplace of ideas. This minority, from among the educated middle class, abhors the brutality involved in effective counterinsurgency, but also refuses to sustain the level of casualties that successfully combatting counterinsurgency requires. Government and state institutions further contribute to failure, as they resort to despotic patterns of behavior in a bid to overcome their domestic predicament. Merom proceeds by analyzing the role of brutality in counterinsurgency, the historical foundations of moral and expedient opposition to war, and the actions states traditionally took in order to preserve foreign policy autonomy. He then discusses the elements of the process that led to the failure of France in Algeria and Israel in Lebanon. In the Conclusion, Merom considers the Vietnam War and the influence that failed small wars has had on Western war-making and military intervention.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The ongoing debate about democracy, war, and peace has been enlivened and enriched by this exceptional book." Journal of Political and Military Sociology

"Merom's work is a welcome addition... excellent and timely." Perspectives on Politics

"...this is a highly informative and readable study." American Journal of Sociology

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521008778
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
1 Introduction 3
2 Military Superiority and Victory in Small Wars: Historical Observations 33
3 The Structural Origins of Defiance: The Middle-Class, The Marketplace of Ideas, and the Normative Gap 48
4 The Structural Origins of Tenacity: National Alignment and Compartmentalization 65
5 The French War in Algeria: A Strategic, Political, and Economic Overview 83
6 French Instrumental Dependence and Its Consequences 99
7 The Development of a Normative Difference in France, and Its Consequences 108
8 The French Struggle to Contain the Growth of the Normative Gap and the Rise of the "Democratic Agenda" 121
9 Political Relevance and Its Consequences in France 139
10 The Israeli War in Lebanon: A Strategic, Political, and Economic Overview 155
11 Israeli Instrumental Dependence and Its Consequences 169
12 The Development of a Normative Difference in Israel, and Its Consequences 177
13 The Israeli Struggle to Contain the Growth of the Normative Gap and the Rise of the "Democratic Agenda" 194
14 Political Relevance and Its Consequences in Israel 208
15 Conclusion 229
Postscript 251
Bibliography 261
Index 277
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2004

    Statements of the Obvious

    The author's postulate is that disaffected elements of the population (an intellectually sophisticated 'elite') eventually cotton onto the nefarious machinations of their governments who are waging wars that, while capable of being won from a military standpoint, can only be accomplished at the expense of misleading the public to the nasty means required to do so. This is hardly a unique observation and, worse, was cloaked (in this book) in layers of ponderous and dense academic jargon. A careful reading of the book indicates that the actual disaffected elements are members of the government, many of whom were part-and-parcel of the planning and implementation process for the very war they later decry (e.g., Daniel Ellsberg, Robert McNamera and others). These disillusioned former practitioners of realpolitik 'wake up' to the nasty particulars of the conflict and then incite domestic opposition amongst the 'intellectual' classes through the vehicle of newspaper articles, other media outlets and campaigning amongst their still 'imbedded' peers in government. Eventually, the domestic cost of waging the war trumps other factors and the democratic regime pulls the plug. These observations are so obviously true as to be banal. The author creates a tautology in asserting that this phenomenon doesn't happen in existentially involving wars (such as WW-II, wherein an obvious clash between naked and unblemished evil and genuine democratic republican ideals is obvious to even the most dense observer). In the case of the French war in Algeria, the author incorrectly asserts that domestic opposition was responsible for French withdrawal, even though the war was militarily 'won'. He neglects to mention the critical role the OAS played in turning public opinion, by their benchmark terror tactics, when manifested domestically against the Republic and it's government. Similarly, in the US war against the Vietnamese Communists, the background of US domestic social discontent was ignored, as was the well-known and flagrant corruption of the South Vietnamese government, widely reviled at the time as a US puppet (which it was). No domestic disaffected 'elite' was responsible for that debacle: the social milieu in which the war took place produced the well-known outcome. In summary, this book presented no new insights or perspectives; it was ponderous reading and lacked originality of presentation. It read much like a doctoral dissertation from a struggling international relations PhD student.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2004

    Democracies Lose Small Wars at Home

    BOOK REVIEW: How Democracies Lose Small Wars : State, Society, and the Failures of France in Algeria, Israel in Lebanon, and the United States in Vietnam by Gil Merom Reviewed by Wayne Lusvardi How Democracy Loses Small Wars is one of the most-timely, but unrecognized books dealing with the so-called ¿quagmire¿ and ¿war prisoner abuse¿ situations the U.S. has encountered in Iraq in early 2004. Gil Merom addresses how modern democracies lose small wars against weaker forces. Merom writes that small wars are lost mostly at home, not on the battlefield, when a highly media-visible minority of the educated upper middle class selectively views with moral revulsion the brutality and casualties necessary to win war. In response, government war leaders resort to repress the ugly realities of war by deceit, censure, and crackdowns, resulting in more negative public opinion. Merom cites three case studies of the outcomes of small wars: the French Algerian War, the Israeli Lebanon War, and the U.S. Vietnam War. It is the French war against Algerian independence from 1954-60 that may offer the best history lesson for the U.S.-Iraq war. France sought to hold onto its empire and oil and gas resources in a mostly Muslim country. The French had overwhelming military power. There were low casualties. The public supported the war despite concerns about the economy. The conflict entailed mostly urban guerilla warfare where one third of the casualties were due to ambushes. And the war was portrayed as a struggle between ¿forces of light and those of darkness.¿ Sound familiar? France won the battles but lost the war and had to eventually pull out. Its citizens would no longer tolerate the suppression of war atrocities by criminalizing the press, the seizing of antiwar literature, and invoking the military draft. So look for the Iraq war to be lost not in Fallujah or Kandahar, but in Berkeley, Paris, or more lately, in Madrid and in the media events swirling around the Abu Graib Prison abuse incidents. Look for the war to be lost if U.S. forces resort to war atrocities, cover-ups, abuses of the Patriot Act, and succumbing to provocations of anti-war activists. Thus far, the Bush administration has court-martialed its military personnel who have committed atrocities, has reluctantly admitted to no WMD¿s rather than attempting a cover up, and have avoided anything like the opinion galvanizing incident of the 1970 Kent State University National Guard killings of student anti-war protesters after they burned down the ROTC building. Merom offers good analysis of the interaction between the military and civilian battlefields. However, his book could have been enhanced by an analysis of how, what sociologists Alvin Gouldner and Peter Berger call the ¿new class,¿ are able to media construct the anti-war movement as comprising the moral high ground. As to the quest for capturing the moral high ground in the Iraq War, perhaps the often self-indulgent anti-war activists could be reminded of the tragic moral consequences of the aftermath of abandoning Vietnam ¿ the Killing Fields, the Boat People émigrés, and the atrocities of Pol Pot in Cambodia.

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