Does Where You Stand Depend On If You Served? How Military Backgrounds Influence The Behavior Of Leaders

36 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 18 Sep 2010

See all articles by Michael C. Horowitz

Michael C. Horowitz

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Political Science

Allan C. Stam

University of Virginia

Date Written: 2010

Abstract

The observation that life experiences shape an individual’s future behavior constitutes a central assumption in fields such as psychology and sociology. While many political scientists may intuitively grasp this insight, for the most part it has escaped careful and systematic analysis. However, three short anecdotes demonstrate the potential power of life experience in explaining the behavior and policy choices of political leaders. First, while many factors shaped the 2008 campaign for President in the United States, one prominent factor was the comparison between Barack Obama’s background as a community organizer versus John McCain’s background as a decorated fighter pilot. Pundits and voters wondered whether Obama’s lack of military experience should count against him, just as they had with regards to Bill Clinton in 1992. The question of military service and candidate backgrounds in general nearly always plays a role in US presidential campaigns. In the 2004 election, John Kerry’s military service became a source of strength to his supporters and a target for fierce criticism by his detractors. Kerry and his handlers suggested that his combat experience in Vietnam provided him with insight that would prove helpful in the War on Terrorism if the public were to elect him.3 Across the Atlantic in 2003, some commentators discussing the French position opposing the American led invasion of Iraq linked the life experiences and political behavior of the French president Jacques Chirac, arguing that Chirac’s military service in Algeria in the 1950s powerfully influenced the way he calculated the costs and benefits of armed conflict.4 Finally, when Hu Jintao rose to power in China in 2002, some argued that his status as the first leader of China since 1949 lacking revolutionary experience and military education would profoundly affect the People’s Republic of China’s foreign policy.

This paper presents results from a new dataset on the background experiences of heads of state from 1869-2004, or almost 16,000 leader years worth of data. We seek to systematically test the effect of background experiences on the behavior of leaders once they get into office. This paper focuses specifically on the issue of military experience and how different types of military experience may shape the behavior of leaders once they get into office. While many different background experiences likely shape the behavior of future leaders, one of the most important is undoubtedly military service.

Suggested Citation

Horowitz, Michael C. and Stam, Allan C., Does Where You Stand Depend On If You Served? How Military Backgrounds Influence The Behavior Of Leaders (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1644732

Michael C. Horowitz (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stiteler Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Allan C. Stam

University of Virginia ( email )

235 McCormick Rd.
P.O. Box 400893
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4893
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
89
Abstract Views
497
rank
285,638
PlumX Metrics