Combat Experience and Foreign Policy Attitudes: Evidence from World War II
56 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2021 Last revised: 27 Jan 2022
Date Written: July 29, 2021
How does combat exposure affect political attitudes? In the realm of foreign policy, some scholars view violence as promoting belligerence, while others argue military experience fosters caution and restraint. We adjudicate this debate using archival military surveys fielded by the US War Department during World War II. Drawing on a large, representative sample of active-duty, enlisted US soldiers in 1945, we assess the consequences of combat. We find that combat reduces support for an active US role in world affairs, Marshall Plan aid, and the formation of the United Nations, and increases support for a punitive peace imposed on Axis powers. We find no evidence that combat veterans hold more negative views of the enemy in general. Overall, this study offers microlevel evidence for existing theories about how combat experience fosters conservatism about foreign policy in general, but hardens attitudes in support of military action to preserve hard-won victories.
Keywords: Combat, Violence Exposure, Foreign Policy, Military Service
JEL Classification: F51, F52, H56
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation