Theodore McLauchlin, "Desertion: Trust and Mistrust in Civil Wars" (Cornell UP, 2020)


Desertion: Trust and Mistrust in Civil Wars (Cornell UP, 2020) examines the personal and political factors behind soldiers' choices to stay in their unit or abandon their cause. Theodore McLauchlin's explores what might spur widespread desertion in a given group, how some armed groups manage to keep their soldiers fighting over long periods, and how committed soldiers are to their causes and their comrades.

To answer these questions, McLauchlin focuses on combatants in military units during the Spanish Civil War. He pushes against the preconception that individual soldiers' motivations are either personal or political, either selfish or ideological. Instead, he draws together the personal and the political, showing how soldiers come to trust each other—or not. Desertion demonstrates how the armed groups that hold together and survive are those that foster interpersonal connections, allowing soldiers the opportunity to prove their commitment to the fight.

McLauchlin argues that trust keeps soldiers in the fray, mistrust pushes them to leave, and political beliefs and military practices shape both. Desertion brings the reader into the world of soldiers and rigorously tests the factors underlying desertion. It asks, honestly and without judgment, what would you do in an army in a civil war? Would you stand and fight? Would you try to run away? And what if you found yourself fighting for a cause you no longer believe in or never did in the first place?

Theodore McLauchlin is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science of the Université de Montréal and Director of the Centre d'études sur la paix et la sécurité internationales. His research interests lie in civil wars, international security, military behavior, and civil-military relations. He earned his Ph.D. at McGill University (2013), during which time he was also a visiting scholar at the Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals.

Lamis Abdelaaty is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She is the author of Discrimination and Delegation: Explaining State Responses to Refugees (Oxford University Press, 2021). Email her comments at or tweet to @LAbdelaaty.

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Lamis Abdelaaty

Dr. Lamis Abdelaaty is Associate Professor of Political Science at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, and Senior Research Associate at the Campbell Public Affairs Institute. Her book, Discrimination and Delegation: Explaining State Responses to Refugees, was published by Oxford University Press in 2021. Email her at
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