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When Soldiers Fall: How Americans Have Confronted Combat Losses from World War I to Afghanistan
     

When Soldiers Fall: How Americans Have Confronted Combat Losses from World War I to Afghanistan

by Steven Casey
 

Call it the Vietnam Syndrome or Black Hawk Down blowback. It's the standard assumption that Americans won't tolerate combat casualties, that a rising body count lowers support for war. But that's not true, argues historian Steven Casey; even worse, this assumption damages democracy. Fearing a backlash, the military has routinely distorted its casualty reports in

Overview

Call it the Vietnam Syndrome or Black Hawk Down blowback. It's the standard assumption that Americans won't tolerate combat casualties, that a rising body count lowers support for war. But that's not true, argues historian Steven Casey; even worse, this assumption damages democracy. Fearing a backlash, the military has routinely distorted its casualty reports in order to hide the true cost of war.

When Soldiers Fall takes a new look at the way Americans have dealt with the toll of armed conflict. Drawing on a vast array of sources, from George Patton's command papers to previously untapped New York Times archives, Casey ranges from World War I (when the U.S. government first began to report casualties) to the War on Terror, examining official policy, the press, and the public reaction. Not surprisingly, leaders from Douglas MacArthur to Donald Rumsfeld have played down casualties. But the reverse has sometimes been true. At a crucial moment in World War II, the military actually exaggerated casualties to counter the public's complacency about ultimate victory. More often, though, official announcements have been unclear, out of date, or deliberately misleading—resulting in media challenges. In World War I, reporters had to rely on figures published by the enemy; in World War II, the armed forces went for an entire year without releasing casualty tallies. Casey discusses the impact of changing presidential administrations, the role of technology, the dispersal of correspondents to cover multiple conflicts, and the enormous improvements in our ability to identify bodies. Recreating the controversies that have surrounded key battles, from the Meuse-Argonne to the Tet Offensive to Fallujah, the author challenges the formula that higher losses lower support for war.

Integrating military, political, and media history, When Soldiers Fall provides the first in-depth account of the impact of battlefield losses in America.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Casey effectively does what every good work of history should do: overturn simplistic claims for a much richer and more complex understanding of organisational development, politics and the changing character of warfare."—RUSI Journal

"Casey has written a thorough, thoughtful account of how casualty figures were reported and used during U.S. wars in the 20th century. The author's archival and secondary source research is impeccable." —CHOICE

"In this illuminating and deeply researched book, Steven Casey shows the way military casualties have informed debates about American war. Sometimes broadcast to emphasize American sacrifice, at other times censored, casualties played a crucial role in generating or undermining public support for military action. An important contribution." —Mary L. Dudziak, author of War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences

"This exemplary book enhances Steven Casey's standing as the leading scholar of the domestic context of America's wars during the last hundred years. Broad in scope and engagingly written, When Soldiers Fall will attract readers interested in America's modern wars, U.S. foreign policy, military history, and twentieth century America." —Ralph B. Levering, author of The Cold War: A Post-Cold War History

"Steven Casey is brilliant! Forget everything you think you know about the link between casualties and war. Casey busts myths at every turn of the page. His captivating story rewrites the history of America's involvement in major wars over the last century as seen through the lens of the fallen and injured soldiers who paid the ultimate price. Especially revealing is the extraordinary deception and manipulation that affected strategy and politics on matters of war and peace. If, as the saying goes, truth is the first casualty of war, the casualties of war are the first to go." —Kenneth Osgood, author of Total Cold War: Eisenhower's Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad

"Casey's book is well worth the read. Senior leaders, planners, strategists and public affairs professionals will learn a great deal from this well-written, thoroughly researched and easy-to-read book." —Army

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199890385
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
01/02/2014
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Steven Casey is Professor of 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.

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