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How Democracies Lose Small Wars: State, Society, and the Failures of France in Algeria, Israel in Lebanon, and the United States in Vietnam Paperback – 4 Aug 2003


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'Anyone who thinks the recent victories in Afghanistan and Iraq show that America's military machine is invincible should read Gil Merom's terrific new book. It not only reminds us that powerful democracies sometimes lose wars against weaker foes, as happened with the United States in Vietnam and Israel in Lebanon, but it also provides a compelling explanation for these surprising outcomes.' John J. Mearsheimer, University of Chicago

'This brilliant and unconventional book about the domestic sources of war combines broad historical sweep with sharp analytical insights. As American military power reigns supreme, this book argues that many Western governments are so deeply constrained that even wars that can be militarily won have become politically infeasible. The strength of the weak in international relations derives from a shift in the relations between state and society in the First World rather than the unifying force of nationalism in the Third World. The implications of this far-reaching claim for our understanding of world politics are worth pondering for all students of war and contemporary world politics.' Peter J. Katzenstein, Cornell University

'Merom's argument is highly timely and his theoretical framework is more developed (both formally and with historical evidence) than that of others who have made a similar argument.' Journal of Peace Research

Book Description

In this 2003 book, Merom argues that modern democracies fail in insurgency wars because they are unable to find a winning balance. Small wars are lost at home when a critical minority mass shifts the center of gravity from the battlefield to the market place of ideas.

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Put narrowly, this book explains how democracies fail in small wars in spite of their military superiority. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 5 reviews
57 of 74 people found the following review helpful
They're not "Small Wars" if you live there. . . 3 Jun 2005
By Crocodilian - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Merom's book, and Lusavardi's review essay which endorses it, share a subscription to an unhappy intellectual current: "the stab in the back" -- the idea that a worthwhile military effort is undermined by "intellectuals" back home, and that if we'd only been able to "take the gloves off" and be just a bit more brutal -as demanded by circumstances, of course-- then everything would have turned out OK.

But this analysis is both wrong, and a pretext for the suppression of dissent. One of the characteristics of all three of the wars that Merom covers is that they were long, far longer than the American Civil War, and than American involvelment in WWII. The length of these involvements alone belies the argument that if only "a little more time, or more men" had been expended then the outcome would have been different.

What they also share in common --and share with Iraq-- is that they were at best marginally legitimate. None of these "wars" included a declaration of war, nor the political unity that such a declarations require-- Begin's invasion of Lebanon was regarded as illegal by the international community, and unwise by many Israelis. The "casus foederis" for America's Vietnam excursion, the "Gulf of Tonkin Incident" was as authentic as Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction. And France wished to maintain as French an Arab Muslim territory which didn't desire it at a time when the international community --prominently including the US-- regarded old Empires as politically illegitimate.

An alternate explanation for why democracies lose such wars is that military political elites, having papered together a thin pretext for intervention, are unable to maintain such rationales against the steady wave of casualties, the hatred for the intervener for their efforts, and the lack of any defined endpoint, but you won't hear that in Merom's book.

Finally, we might add that the brutality argument doesn't wash. Rather brutal nations have failed at counter-insurgency warfare --hard to argue that the Soviets in Afghanistan "kept the gloves on", nor that their successors in Chechnya have either. Conversely, the British did put down an insurgency in Malaya-- one of the classic success stories in counter-insurgency warfare.

Blaming whingeing home-front intellectuals for the strategic errors of those who commit a nation's soldiers to wars without end is tempting, but wrong.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Small Wars with BIG Outcomes 18 May 2012
By T.A.L. Dozer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Small Wars with BIG Outcomes

Gil Merom argues in his book "How Democracies Lose Small Wars: State, Society, and the Failures of France in Algeria, Israel in Lebanon, and the United States in Vietnam" that democratic institutions are less effective in waging small wars or counterinsurgencies. In particular, the moral values implicit in democratic society make it difficult to sustain the casualties and brutality inherent in small wars. The result is a "normative gap" between the values of society and those of the state, making it difficult for the state to continue its focus on the external threat.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A Collection of the Obvious 14 May 2008
By Keith A. Comess - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The author's postulate is that disaffected elements of the population (an intellectually sophisticated 'elite') eventually cotton onto the nefarious machinations of their governments who are waging wars that, while capable of being won from a military standpoint, can only be accomplished at the expense of misleading the public to the nasty means required to do so. This is hardly a unique observation and, worse, was cloaked (in this book) in layers of ponderous and dense academic jargon.

A careful reading of the book indicates that the actual disaffected elements are members of the government, many of whom were part-and-parcel of the planning and implementation process for the very war they later decry (e.g., Daniel Ellsberg, Robert McNamera and others). These disillusioned former practitioners of realpolitik 'wake up' to the nasty particulars of the conflict and then incite domestic opposition amongst the 'intellectual' classes through the vehicle of newspaper articles, other media outlets and campaigning amongst their still 'imbedded' peers in government. Eventually, the domestic cost of waging the war trumps other factors and the democratic regime pulls the plug.

These observations are so obviously true as to be banal. The author creates a tautology in asserting that this phenomenon doesn't happen in existentially involving wars (such as WW-II, wherein an obvious clash between naked and unblemished evil and genuine democratic republican ideals is obvious to even the most dense observer). In the case of the French war in Algeria, the author incorrectly asserts that domestic opposition was responsible for French withdrawal, even though the war was militarily 'won'. He neglects to mention the critical role the OAS played in turning public opinion by their benchmark terror tactics when manifested domestically against the Republic and it's government. Similarly, in the US war against the Vietnamese Communists, the background of US domestic social discontent was ignored, as was the well-known and flagrant corruption of the South Vietnamese government, widely reviled at the time as a US puppet (which it was). No domestic disaffected 'elite' was responsible for that debacle: the social milieu in which the war took place produced the well-known outcome.

In summary, this book presented no new insights or perspectives; it was ponderous reading and lacked originality of presentation. It read much like a doctoral dissertation from a struggling international relations PhD student.
33 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Small Wars Lost At Home Not on Battlefield 15 May 2004
By Wayne C. Lusvardi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
How Democracy Loses Small Wars is perhaps one of the most-timely, but unrecognized books dealing with the so-called "quagmire" and war prisoner abuse situations the U.S. has encountered in Iraq in 2004. Gil Merom addresses how modern democracies lose small wars against weaker forces. Merom writes that small wars are lost mostly at home not on the battlefield when a highly media-visible minority of the educated upper middle class selectively views with moral revulsion the brutality and casualties necessary to win war. In response, government war leaders resort to repress the ugly realities of war by deceit, censure, and crackdowns, attracting even more media attention.

Merom offers three case studies of the outcomes of small wars: the French Algerian War, the Israeli Lebanon War, and the U.S. Vietnam War. It is not the Vietnam War but the French war against Algerian independence from 1954-60 that may offer the best history lesson for the U.S.-Iraq war. France sought to hold onto its empire and oil and gas resources in a mostly Muslim country. The French had overwhelming military power. There were low casualties. The public supported the war despite concerns about the economy. The conflict entailed mostly urban guerilla warfare where one third of the casualties were due to ambushes. And the war was portrayed as a struggle between "forces of light and those of darkness." Sound familiar? France won the battles but lost the war and had to eventually pull out. Its citizens would no longer tolerate the suppression of wartime abuses by criminalizing the press, the seizing of antiwar literature, and invoking the military draft.
So look for the Iraq war to be lost not in Fallujah or Kandahar, but in Berkeley, Paris, or more lately, in Madrid or Abu Ghraib prison. Look for the war to be lost if U.S. forces resort to war crimes, cover-ups, abuses of the Patriot Act, and succumbing to provocations of anti-war activists. Thus far, the Bush administration has court-martialed those who have committed abuses, has reluctantly admitted to no WMD's rather than attempting a cover up, and have avoided anything like the opinion galvanizing incident of the 1970 Kent State University National Guard killing of student Vietnam anti-war protesters in response to the provocation of burning down the campus ROTC building.
Merom offers good analysis of the interaction between the military and civilian battlefields. His book could have been enhanced by an analysis of how, what sociologists Alvin Gouldner and Peter Berger call the "new class" are able to socially construct the military as comprising the moral low ground. As to the quest for capturing the moral high ground in the Iraq War, perhaps the often self-indulgent anti-war activists could be reminded of the tragic moral consequences of the aftermath of abandoning Vietnam - the Killing Fields, the Boat People émigrés, and the atrocities of Pol Pot in Cambodia.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Good Sale 10 Aug 2008
By W2 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The book arrived in the estimated time and in the condition advertised by this seller.
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