January 22, 2002
Right on Target
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
When Dan Reiter was writing his latest book, Democracies at War, he and coauthor Allan Stam had no idea that their work would be released into a world that had seen America's bloodiest day since the Civil War.
An American campaign in Afghanistan was not a consideration as Reiter
and Stam finished their book, which was complete before the first bomb
fell on Kabul. But much of the subject matter of Democracies at War,
which studies the manner in which democratically elected governments wage
and win wars, is eerily appropriate to the post-Sept. 11 world.
One argument we make is that democracies will be very conservative
in their foreign policy, meaning that they will only get involved in conflicts
that they are very sure they are going to win, win quickly, and win with
few casualties, said Reiter, associate professor of political science.
I think the Bush administration recognized that [Afghanistan] was
an environment that at the least we could minimize U.S. casualties because
it would be a war using air power. That would minimize political exposure.
Of course, it turned out much more successfully than even the Bush administration
According to Reiter, the way the United States has conducted its war
in Afghanistanand practically every conflict since Vietnamstands
in sharp contrast to the way dictators or one-party states enter battle.
In 1980, when the Soviets sent lots of troops into Afghanistan,
they were not terribly concerned about incurring a lot of casualties,
because the government didnt worry about domestic political threats,
The Soviets lost that war, but the communists stayed in powerfor
a time. Reiter also brought up the example of Iraq, which has fought two
major wars under the guidance of dictator Saddam Hussein: a very costly
stalemate against Iran, and the war that Reiter called arguably
the worst military defeat of the 20th century, the Gulf War.
Despite those losses, Hussein remains leader. This, Reiter said, is another
major difference between democracies and autocracies. Democratic leaders
must worry about the political fallout that comes with casualties. That
fear, Reiter said, does a lot to shape military strategy, particularly
in this country.
Does the sudden relevance of Democracies at War mean a possible
spike in sales when it is released in March? (I hope so, Reiter
joked). Regardless, Reiter and Stam had a wide audience in mind when they
were writing the book. It is aimed at upper-level undergraduates and history
and political buffs. Statistics are kept to a minimum.
Its not a Stephen Ambrose best seller, but hopefully its
the kind of thing one can assign to an upper-level undergrad, and that
student can get a lot out of it, Reiter said.
He is already on the promotions wagon. Last week, he scheduled a book
signing for March 9 in Druid Hills Bookstore.
Reiter first became interested in military history and political science while in high school in the early 1980s. He was fascinated with the Cold War, which, during the Reagan years, was front and center in the American political consciousness. In 1989, Reiter graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A. in political science, then earned his Ph.D. five years later from The University of Michigan.
After a year of postdoc work at Harvard, he was hired as an assistant
professor at Emory 1995. Reiter was promoted to associate professor in
For a younger academic studying war (as well as one without a military
background), the 34-year-old Reiter holds a different perspective than
other professorsparticularly on what is seen by many as Americas
most difficult war, Vietnam.
Vietnam-era people, I think, have a very polarizing view of the
war, Reiter said. For younger people like me, its much
less emotional issue. Its a waryou can study it. You can think
Reiter said he once asked a leading political scientist why he hadnt
researched Vietnam. He was told that it was just too emotional. Also,
when a manuscript of Democracies at War was submitted to Princeton,
its publisher, a member of the review board was so incensed that Reiter
and Stam (a political science professor at Yale and a former Special Forces
soldier) had described the Vietnam War as a draw until the Paris Peace
Accords of 1973 that he did not want the book to be published.
One things for sure, hell have some funding to work with.
He and political science Assistant Professor Christopher Zorn are sharing
a National Science Foundation grant to fund the statistical project. Reiter
also received the 2002 Karl Deutsch Award from the International Studies
Association (ISA). The award is presented to a scholar under 40 (or within
10 years of his doctorate) who is judged to have made the most significant
contribution to the study of international relations and peace research.
The cash prize isnt large ($500), but the prestige factor is quite
high. Reiter will accept the award at ISAs annual conference in
New Orleans, March 25.
Beyond his research, two of Reiters main interests are rock climbing
and hiking. He has helped out at the rock-climbing wall in the Woodruff
P.E. Center, primarily as a way to interact with students outside the
In the Odd But Interesting Habit category, Reiter hopes to eventually
ascend to the highest point in each of the 50 states. In less than five
years, hes already bagged 24.
The first one came by accident. Looking to break up a monotonous drive
from Denver to Atlanta, Reiter spied a small dot on his road atlas identifying
the highest point in Kansas.
So, I checked it out, and its basically just a bump,
Reiter said. Half the high points are hilarious, and the other half
are just nice hikes. In the first month of 2002, Reiter already
has checked off the highest points in Ohio and Indiana.
Personally, Reiter and his wife, Carolann, are expecting their first
child in April. They were married in 1999. Carolann is a graduate of the
Goizueta Business School, but the two did not meet on campus.
Were the same age, so its not like she was my student, Reiter laughed.
Emory University, Copyright 2002