Fighting for Tyranny: How State Repression Shapes Military Performance

Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Lindsay Rogers Room, 707 International Affairs Building (420 West 118th St, 7th Floor)

Please join the Harriman Institute and the Department of Political Science for a meeting of the Columbia University Comparative Politics Seminar with speaker Arturas Rozenas, Associate Professor of Politics at New York University.

Past research has highlighted trade-offs between the loyalty and competence of military personnel in authoritarian regimes, suggesting that some autocrats can sacrifice military performance by purging competent, yet potentially disloyal officers. Yet officer purges and "coup-proofing" represent only a fraction of the state violence against the military. We know very little about how mass repression in broader society affects individual behavior on the battlefield. To address this question, Rozenas employs a unique dataset containing millions of individual records on Red Army conscripts in the Second World War and millions of arrests and political killings during the Soviet Great Terror in the 1930's. Rozenas links the two data sources at the level of individual birth location to study how exposure to repression at the individual and community level impacted the battlefield resolve and loyalty of soldiers. His preliminary findings suggest that Red Army soldiers more exposed to pre-war repression were less likely to flee the battlefield, more likely to die, but also less likely to show individual initiative for which they would receive military decorations. While repression may have helped resolve some collective action problems associated with fighting, it ultimately resulted in conformity and a crippling lack of initiative, not heroism.