How elected leaders prolong unpopular wars: Examining American policy during the Vietnam War and French policy during the Algerian War

Date
2016
Authors
McHugh, Kelly A.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Publisher
Taylor & Francis
Abstract
I seek to explain why democracies often maintain involvement in peripheral wars years after public support has dissipated. Using insights from literature on prospect theory and framing theory, I argue that when a war becomes unpopular (largely because the public perceives it to be too costly to achieve the original goal of the war) elites who favor prolonging the conflict seek to “reframe” the debate; here elites attempt to convince the public that a rapid withdraw is in fact a more costly choice. Specifically, leaders will emphasize the reputational and security costs of a loss, and convince the public that a risky gamble—namely an escalation or expansion of the conflict—is the only war to avoid such a loss. I examine these propositions in two case studies: the Vietnam War during the period of 1968–1975, and the Algerian War during the period of 1956–1962.
Description
Keywords
Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Algeria—History—Revolution, 1954-1962, Social sciences
Citation
Kelly A. McHugh. (2016). How elected leaders prolong unpopular wars: Examining American policy during the Vietnam War and French policy during the Algerian War. Cogent Social Sciences, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/23311886.2016.1250337
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