Soeren Henn, Connor Huff

The Legacies of Atrocities and Who Fights

How do the legacies of atrocities shape who fights? We argue that past atrocities shape local grievances and economic incentives. Increasing grievances make individuals more likely to rebel, and less likely to fight for the perpetrator. When organizations use material incentives to recruit, worsening economic conditions increase the incentives to fight. We study how the atrocity of the 1845–1849 Great Famine affected whether Irishmen fought for or against Britain. Leveraging data on over 150,000 Irish combatants, we show that individuals in places more severely affected by the Famine fought in the pro-British Irish Militia and the WWI British military at lower rates. However, they rebelled against Britain at higher rates. Additional quantitative evidence suggests that historical grievances shaped the choice to fight for both sides, while increasing opportunity costs only mattered when organizations paid combatants. We demonstrate how the memories of the past, and economic conditions in the present, shape who fights.

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The University of Chicago