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Why They Die

Civilian Devastation in Violent Conflict

Daniel Rothbart and Karina V. Korostelina

Publication Year: 2011

"A welcome contribution to our understanding of the process at work in societies in conflict---a process that can occur even before the fighting begins---this book convincingly argues the need to bring civilians, who are often not at the center of conflict analysis, to the forefront of any discussion of conflict through an examination of anti-civilian ideology and the construction of the Other in terms of the positioning of boundaries." ---Kristen P. Williams, Clark University "The authors convincingly dismiss conventional accounts---collateral damage is unavoidable, war is hell, etc.---and insist that the insights of identity studies can provide a more complete perspective on this issue." ---John Parry, Lewis & Clark Law School "Why They Die is a work of imagination and insight. Based on wide reading and deep reflection, the authors have adopted a case study method to illustrate why it is that civilians are so often targeted in modern conflict, and why this development is such a departure from earlier forms of warfare. Rather than being that unfortunate phenomenon 'collateral damage,' as so often claimed by military theorists, the modern world has seen a situation where the destruction of civilian lives has all too often become the object of combatant behaviors. Rothbart and Korostelina have shown why this has happened, and how such behaviors can be explained. All in all, this is an excellent and worthy addition to a growing literature of mass murder, mayhem, and destruction." ---Paul R. Bartrop, Bialik College, Melbourne, Australia Why do civilians suffer most during times of violent conflict? Why are civilian fatalities as much as eight times higher, calculated globally for current conflicts, than military fatalities? In Why They Die, Daniel Rothbart and Karina V. Korostelina address these questions through a systematic study of civilian devastation in violent conflicts. Pushing aside the simplistic definition of war as a guns-and-blood battle between two militant groups, the authors investigate the identity politics underlying conflicts of many types. During a conflict, all those on the opposite side are perceived as the enemy, with little distinction between soldiers and civilians. As a result, random atrocities and systematic violence against civilian populations become acceptable. Rothbart and Korostelina devote the first half of the book to case studies: deportation of the Crimean Tatars from the Ukraine, genocide in Rwanda, the Lebanon War, and the war in Iraq. With the second half, they present new methodological tools for understanding different types of violent conflict and discuss the implications of these tools for conflict resolution. Jacket photograph: © iStockphoto.com/Tina Rencelj

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page

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Our gratitude extends to those whose labors contributed significantly toward bringing this book to press. We are fortunate to work for a school where the free exchange of ideas is encouraged, assistance from faculty members is ever...


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pp. vii

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pp. 1-5

After all the parades, the patriotic tributes, and the media portrayals that enshrine familiar virtues while maligning foreign vices, it is the weakest participants of armed conflict who bear its greatest burden. No matter how you look at it...

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Part One

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pp. 7-14

How do conflict protagonists characterize the civilian Other in the course of hostilities with adversaries? Our research reveals that the category of civilian noncombatant...

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1 | Who Dies in Armed Conflicts?

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pp. 15-27

From the militaristic perspective, the realities of armed conflict are often invoked to explain the civilian devastation that so often sadly results. Civilian fatalities are seen as routine, unavoidable, and in most cases excusable. For military...

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2 | Distinguishing the Enemy from theInnocent in War

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pp. 28-43

As we showed in chapter 1, civilians die in far greater numbers than do combatants in major armed conflicts across the globe.We seek to explain why the weakest participants in such conflicts are routinely subjected to the greatest degree of suffering...

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3 | Deportation from Crimea

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pp. 44-57

The politics of group identity is legend in armed conflicts of the twentieth century.While many cases of racial hatred and devastation have received world attention, other episodes are less well known. This chapter examines the enormous hardships...

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4 | Genocide in Rwanda

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pp. 58-75

In the field of international relations, threats are typically characterized as realpolitik tactics, deployed as instruments of power by nation-states. In reality, any threat is a form of coercion, control, power, manipulation, or possibly terror. This idea...

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5 | The Second Lebanon War

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pp. 76-97

On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah's Lebanese guerrillas crossed into Israel and attacked an Israeli patrol, killing three soldiers and kidnapping two others. In retaliation, Israel launched air strikes against Lebanon and imposed a naval blockade that began...

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6 | Better Safe than Dead in Iraq

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pp. 98-122

Political leaders' wartime rhetoric is riddled with simple moralistic language. When the nation is at war, civilians at home are barraged with proclamations from their leaders that their cause is just, the nation's ideals are supreme, and the...

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Part Two

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pp. 123-126

Why are civilians routinely killed in armed conflict at a far greater rate than combatants? Does this fact reflect a pattern of systematic atrocity in armed conflcts globally...

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7 | Limitations of Social Identity Theoriesin Relation to Conflict Analysis

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pp. 127-139

Again, in this book we explain civilian devastation in violent conflict through intergroup relations between militant Other and the civilian Other.We examine notions of the two Others from the perspective of the ingroup, how both groups presumably...

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8 | Understanding Group Identity as Collective Axiology

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pp. 140-152

Why does systematic violence against civilians occur? Why do some identity groups find in their heritage the values that promote reconciliation and peace,while others engulf large segments of the civilian population in mass devastation? Part...

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9 | The Normative Dimensions of Identity Conflicts

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pp. 153-164

As a major theme of the book,we argue that civilian devastation is routine and systematic to identity conflicts. But we have yet to give a precise account of such conflicts- their character and causes, their evolution and variability. In this chapter...

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10 | Causality in Explanations ofCivilian Devastation

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pp. 165-180

When identity conflicts evoke vitriolic hatred between protagonist groups, a ferocity that taps into the most violent passions of our human experience emanates from a collective fixation on the dangerous Other, a fixation that in turn tends to dominate the ingroup's entire identity and fosters a readiness...

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pp. 181-186

In declarations about the "just cause" of their struggle against a sworn enemy, conflict protagonists readily recount the enemy's violent actions, inhumane character, and threat to the homeland. The enemy's evildoings are plain to any...


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pp. 187-192


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pp. 193-208

Index of Names

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pp. 209-212

Index of Subjects

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pp. 213-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026388
E-ISBN-10: 0472026380
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472117536
Print-ISBN-10: 047211753X

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 4 Tables, 12 Figures
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Military history, Modern -- 20th century.
  • Military history, Modern -- 21st century.
  • War and society.
  • War (Philosophy).
  • Sociology, Military.
  • Group identity.
  • Civilians in war.
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