Acts of atrocity effects on public opinion support during war or conflict
Corley, Christopher L.
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Acts of atrocity are an unfortunate, yet recurring theme of warfare. Committed by both professional and unprofessional militaries alike, these acts flagrantly violate common standards of competence, morality, ethics, and military professionalism. Commonly, these incidents result in the death of innocent civilians or fellow military members; involve cover-ups which are later exposed; and lead to attempts by senior leadership to deflect the blame elsewhere. These incidents are serious matters, capturing public attention because they are representative of abuses of power or unauthorized uses of force. Examination of the My Lai massacre and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal offers an excellent opportunity to better understand how these incidents affect public opinion. Although results for the My Lai incident were inconclusive, it appears the Abu Ghraib affected public opinion support for the Iraq War, at least in the short-term. If presidents and military leaders can understand and predict the shift of public opinion support following an act of atrocity, they may be able to take decisive action to mitigate potential negative effects.
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