War and Political Change

In a joint series of papers and a book project with Saumitra Jha (Stanford GSB) ¬†we examine the effects of wartime experience and especially of combat experience on veterans’ organizational skills and post-conflict political activities.

The first paper in this project was published in 2012 in the American Political Science Review, and explored the ways in which Indians’ combat experience in the (colonial) Indian Army in World War II had a profound effect on the partition of India in 1947-48. First we established which areas of India produced the greatest proportion of combat troops during World War II (below).







Source: Jha and Wilkinson APSR (2012)




Then we showed, controlling for as many other possible explanations as we could, that those districts with greater numbers of combat veterans after the war also had the highest levels of ethnic cleansing in 1947-48. We interpret this as due to a) the greater organizational capacity of combat veterans in carrying out ethnic cleansing, all other things equal and also b) the greater ability of combat veterans, in districts in which they were a distinct minority, to organize flight from those districts towards areas where their community was in the majority.


War and Political Change in Revolutionary France

Our current work examines the effects of French combat experience during the American War of Independence on post-war political activism in 1789, after the veterans had returned to France. This project has posed a lot of data challenges, as there was no census in the 18th century. But we have been able to build up a pretty comprehensive picture of where the French veterans were from (those who went to the Americas as well as those who did not), and relate this to a large number of political indicators in Revolutionary France.