H-Diplo/ISSF is honored to present a special and very unique exchange on the issue of “Democracy, Deception and Entry into War.” The editors would particularly like to express their great appreciation to Marc Trachtenberg for allowing us to publish his extended essay “Dan Reiter and America’s Road to War in 1941,” as well as to David Kaiser, Dan Reiter, and John Schuessler for their thoughtful contributions to this important debate. One could not ask for a better demonstration of the benefits of productive exchange and debate among historians and political scientists.
Historians and political scientists alike should appreciate Dan Reiter’s How Wars End. It eschews statistical analysis for comparative case-studies because the answers are “complex and nuanced” (6) and defers formal proofs for plain-language explanations. The six empirical chapters are based on case-specific puzzles rather than theory-driven questions. The three reviewers—Dale Copeland, Hein Goemans, and Zachary Shirkey—find few major flaws with How Wars End, although each has some reservations over aspects of the argument. Because some readers might not be versed in rationalist theories on war that Reiter engages, this introduction will first provide an overview of them and then discuss the reviews in the next section.
In the following exchange Dan Reiter defends his argument that democratic states win most of the wars that they fight primarily because they choose which wars to engage in more carefully than authoritarian states do. This is called the “selection effects” explanation because democracies are selecting which wars to fight and which to avoid. Here, Reiter is replying to previously published criticism by Michael C. Desch and Alexander Downes that detailed examinations of several historical cases that Reiter cites do not in fact support his arguments. Desch and Downes respond and then Reiter has a rebuttal. They primarily debate both how historical evidence should be interpreted and how their hypotheses should be evaluated in the 1920 Russo-Polish War, the 1956 Sinai War, the 1967 Six Day War, the 1982 Lebanon War, and the 1965 escalation of the Vietnam War.