War and Presidential Greatness

John Glaser, March 28, 2012

Economist and Antiwar.com contributor David Henderson and co-author Zachary Gochenour have written a paper on the correlation between the popularity of a president and the number of people they’ve killed. Here is the abstract:

Historians and journalists commonly survey other historians on the relative “greatness” of American presidents, and these rankings show remarkable consistency between surveys. In this paper we consider commonalities between highly ranked presidents and compare plausible determinants of greatness according to historians. We find that a strong predictor of greatness is the fraction of American lives lost in war during a president’s tenure. We find this predictor to be robust and compare favorably to other predictors used in previous historical research. We discuss potential reasons for this correlation and conclude with a discussion of how historians’ views might affect policy.

They also point to this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

If there is not war, you don’t get the great general; if there is not the great occasion, you don’t get the great statesman; if Lincoln had lived in times of peace, no one would know his name now.




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