Felix Haass, Alexander De Juan, Carlo Koos, Sascha Riaz, Thomas Tichelbaecker | 2021

War and Nationalism: Evidence from World War I and the Rise of the Nazi Party

in: OSF Preprints

Can wars breed nationalism? We argue that civilians’ indirect exposure to war fatalities can trigger psychological processes that reinforce hostility towards war opponents, increase identification with their nation, and thereby strengthen support for nationalist parties. We test this argument in the context of the rise of the Nazi Party after World War 1. To measure localized war exposure, we machine-coded information on all 8.6 million German soldiers who were wounded or died in WW1. Our empirical strategy leverages battlefield dynamics that cause plausibly exogenous variation in the county-level death rate – the share of dead soldiers among all casualties. We find that throughout the inter-war period, electoral support for right wing nationalist parties, including the Nazi Party, was 2.6 percentage points higher in counties with high death rates. Consistent with our proposed mechanism, we find that this effect was driven by civilians rather than veterans and areas with a culture of war commemoration.
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