Abstract

In “Hiroshima in Iran: What Americans Really Think about Using Nuclear Weapons and Killing Noncombatants,” a pathbreaking survey of attitudes toward the laws of war published in the summer 2017 issue of International Security, Scott Sagan and Benjamin Valentino found that Americans are relatively insensitive to the targeting of civilian populations and to international norms and taboos against the use of nuclear weapons. We replicated a key question of this study, where respondents were asked if they would support saturation bombing an Iranian city to end a war. We also introduced some variations into the experiment to directly measure any potential influence of international norms and laws. Overall, our quantitative and qualitative findings are more optimistic than those of Sagan and Valentino's study: Americans do strongly believe it is wrong to target civilians. And in a real-life scenario such as this, a majority would likely oppose such a bombing. These findings suggest, however, that much depends on how survey questions are structured in measuring those preferences and whether legal or ethical considerations are part of any national conversation about war policy.

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