Abstract: A state’s military power ultimately rests on the efforts of ordinary citizens in battle. But what if people see the state they are defending as unjust or even tyrannical? To investigate this question, we assemble a novel dataset from over 100 million declassified personnel records of Red Army conscripts in the Second World War, and detailed data on Stalin’s mass repression before the war. Results from three empirical designs show that soldiers from places with more pre-war repression were more likely to fight until death and less likely to flee, but they also displayed less initiative in battle. This finding underscores an overlooked negative externality of repression: past exposure to repression induces conformity, which may help solve some principal agent problems associated with fighting, but it comes at the expense of military effectiveness and higher wartime casualties.
Arturas Rozenas, Roya Talibova, Yuri M. Zhukov