The hierarchy of military death

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The Israeli government's hesitation during the Second Lebanon War (2006) and before the 2009 Gaza War to launch widespread ground operations that might result in the loss of the lives of hundreds of Israeli soldiers sparked criticism that the government had become overly sensitive to soldiers' lives. This criticism contended that the government considered the soldiers' lives more valuable than the lives of civilians. How can this inversion be explained? I argue that the political reality differs from the normative one, ranking soldiers rather than citizens higher on the hierarchy of risk. The hierarchy of risk on which the state positions its citizens and soldiers results from the encounter between two variables: the degree of choice available to those whom the state designates for possible death, and the political cost resulting from the choice, especially when the state fails to justify their death. The higher the group's rank in the hierarchy, the more protected it is because the state tries to minimize its exposure to risk. When the state cannot mitigate the tensions inherent between its duties toward groups placed on the highest rungs in the hierarchy, it may use excessive lethality that claims more civilian casualties from its enemy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-361
Number of pages17
JournalCitizenship Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010


  • Casualty aversion
  • Political protest
  • Republican contract
  • Social hierarchy


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