How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War

Assistant Professor of Political Science Dominic Tierney's talk, based on a forthcoming book, explores the American experience of war since the Revolution. The project explains why people back some conflicts, but not others, how the United States fights, why Washington wins and loses, and how Americans remember and learn from war. His talk contrasts the American experience of war in two types of military conflict: interstate war (where we fight against other countries) versus nation-building (where we fight against insurgents). Inspired by idealism and vengeance, we view interstate wars like World War II as a glorious crusade to overthrow tyrants. These same cultural forces, however, mean that we see nation-building in places like Somalia or Afghanistan as a wearying quagmire. In other words, Americans are addicted to regime change and allergic to nation-building.