Misfortunes of War

Misfortunes of War: Press and Public Reactions to Civilian Deaths in Wartime

Eric V. Larson
Bogdan Savych
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: RAND Corporation
Pages: 298
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  • Book Info
    Misfortunes of War
    Book Description:

    This monograph, part of a larger study of ways to reduce collateral damage undertaken for the U.S. Air Force, analyzes media and public reactions to civilian casualty incidents, whether these incidents affect media reporting or public support for military operations, and, if so, how. It analyzes case studies of incidents of civilian deaths in the February 1991 bombing of the Al Firdos bunker in the Gulf War, the April and May 1999 attacks on the Djakovica convoy and Chinese embassy during the war in Kosovo, the June 2002 attack involving an Afghan wedding party during operations in Afghanistan, and the March 2003 incident involving a large explosion in a crowded Baghdad marketplace to describe and explain how the U.S. and foreign media and publics have responded. For each case study, the study team examined press, public, and leadership responses to these incidents and found the following. First, while avoiding civilian casualties is important to the American public, it has realistic expectations about the actual possibilities for avoiding casualties. Second, the press reports heavily on civilian casualty incidents. Third, adversaries understand the publicÂ's sensitivities to civilian deaths and have sought to exploit them. Fourth, during armed conflict, the belief that the United States and its allies are trying to avoid casualties most affects support for U.S. military operations, both at home and abroad. Fifth, while strong majorities of Americans typically give U.S. military and political leaders the benefit of the doubt when civilian casualty incidents occur, this does not necessarily extend to foreign audiences. Sixth, when civilian casualty incidents occur, it is at least as important to get the story right as to get the story out. Finally, attention to and concern about civilian casualties both at home and abroad have increased in recent years and may continue to do so.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-4244-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Preface
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  4. Figures
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Tables
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Summary
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  8. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  9. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Although the number of armed conflicts worldwide has declined since the spasm of violence that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Balkans, war, one of civilization’s most reviled and durable institutions, has continued to wreak havoc against innocent civilians.¹

    Western nations, such as the United States, have, through international law, military strategy, doctrine, tactics, and technology sought to alleviate some of the burdens that war imposes on innocents. Nevertheless, U.S. adversaries—apparently in the hope of deterring the United States from taking military action in the first place or of imposing political costs if their deterrent efforts...

  10. CHAPTER TWO Operation Desert Storm (Iraq, 1991)
    (pp. 21-62)

    The first case we examined was the 1991 Gulf War to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Because the war presented the prospect of extremely high numbers of U.S. combat casualties,¹ the war was conducted in two phases: an air war against strategic targets and fielded forces, followed by a ground offensive once Iraqi ground capabilities had been sufficiently reduced. As the air war involved targeting Iraqi strategic and other targets in Baghdad and other populated areas, it was in the first phase of the war that civilian casualties figured most prominently. This monograph will show, however, that most Americans believed...

  11. CHAPTER THREE Operation Allied Force (Kosovo, 1999)
    (pp. 63-124)

    Operation Allied Force in Kosovo was the NATO air war to halt a Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) campaign of ethnic cleansing of Albanian Kosovars that already had killed an estimated 1,000 civilians in 1998 and resumed again in early 1999.¹ Although public attitudes toward the war appeared unaffected by the April 14, 1999, Djakovica convoy incident, following the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy, there was a significant decline in the belief that the U.S. coalition was doing everything it could to avoid civilian casualties. There is also some evidence that support for the war also may have declined....

  12. CHAPTER FOUR Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan, 2001–)
    (pp. 125-158)

    Operation Enduring Freedom was the name given to military operations conducted in support of the U.S. global war on terrorism following the September 11, 2001 (“9/11”) terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. After 9/11, the United States demanded that Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban give up Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda followers. When the Taliban failed to comply, on October 7, 2001, military operations began in Afghanistan with the aim of defeating Taliban and al Qaeda forces and changing the regime. This chapter shows that, although the evidence suggests that Americans became less comfortable about civilian casualties...

  13. CHAPTER FIVE Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq, 2003–)
    (pp. 159-204)

    Following about six months of heightened diplomatic and military activity, Operation Iraqi Freedom—the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime—began on March 19, 2003. President Bush announced the conclusion of major combat operations on May 1, although an insurgency involving remnants of Saddam’s regime, disenfranchised Sunnis, foreign jihadists, and others, has since continued to plague the coalition’s postwar occupation. This chapter will show that, although Americans appear to have been more sensitive to civilian casualties in this war than in the 1991 Gulf War or the more recent war in Afghanistan, the very high level of...

  14. CHAPTER SIX Implications and Conclusions
    (pp. 205-216)

    As described in the case studies, concern about and sensitivity to civilian casualties has varied somewhat across past U.S. military operations: Of those we examined, sensitivity appears to have been highest in the war in Kosovo after the Chinese embassy incident, lowest in the 1991 Gulf War and 2001 war in Afghanistan, and somewhere in between in the 2003 war in Iraq.

    Subject to the limiting condition that there may be significant differences in the sensitivity to civilian casualties that hinge on beliefs about the specific merits of each military operation, there also is some evidence that concern about civilian...

  15. APPENDIX Multivariate Statistical Modeling Results
    (pp. 217-234)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-264)