Three articles on the politics of the Medal of Honor

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University of Alabama Libraries

Despite its prominence and overlap with so many fields of political science, the Medal of Honor has received little scholarly attention. This dissertation contributes to our understanding with three articles that view the Medal of Honor as a political tool. The first explains that, because the president uses the Medal of Honor as a tool and the tool's effectiveness varies with its value, he has worked to reduce the number of unworthy recipients by creating several layers of independent review. Multiple layers help prevent one person's preferences from dominating, and each additional layer makes it more difficult for unworthy nominees to get through. The rules of the game allow for appeals to reverse incorrect decisions. These rules influenced two recent cases. In the first, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates avoided an Inspector General investigation into Sergeant Rafael Peralta's nomination, which would have lowered the value of the award, by retracting his endorsement. In the second, General Davis Petraeus recommended downgrading Captain William Swenson's nomination to a Distinguished Service Cross; but his administrative clerks lost the paperwork, which allowed the process to restart, and the nomination received an endorsement from Petraeus's replacement. The second article considers the Medal of Honor as a motivational tool. Although most theoretical economics studies suggest that awards increase employee productivity, the little research that exists on the topic has shown that awards actually decrease overall effort (Gubler, Larkin and Pierce, 2013). In addition, those theoretical studies assume that individuals succeed or fail on their own and that employees do not affect cost functions for one another. Chapter 3 explores a game that accounts for these deficiencies in a military context, where success is determined at the group level and soldiers can make action more or less costly for other soldiers (for example, by digging trenches). The model suggests that wages and awards decrease a soldier's effort but increase other soldiers' effort. These results are more consistent with the empirical findings than most theoretical economic studies. The final article considers the Medal of Honor as a public-opinion tool. Several studies have suggested that the president has little to no influence over public opinion (e.g. Edwards, 2003), but human-interest stories presented through soft-news sources offer the possibility reaching low-awareness individuals, who can be influenced with new information, with positive information about the war through entertainment-focused media, such as late-night talk shows (Baum, 2002, 2003). This in turn may help the president protect his ability to pursue his domestic agenda (Thrall, 2000). I find that the president awards more Medals of Honor when his job approval is low, with a lag of about two months. I also find that the president is 23% more likely to hold a Medal of Honor ceremony between Monday and Thursday, when it will get more attention, than on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

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Political science