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Political science prof to speak at Rockwell about war and public opinion

01/14/15 

Dr. J. Benjamin Taylor, an assistant professor of political science at MCLA, will be a presenter at Norman Rockwell Museum’s “Four Freedoms Forum” series on Thursday, Jan. 15, at 5:30 p.m., when participants will look at the cultural legacy of war.

Inspired by Rockwell’s Four Freedom paintings, the series of town hall conversations is free and open to the public. Participants will explore aspects of our democracy and important social concerns in a rapidly changing and increasingly global world.

C:\fakepath\Ben Taylor mug.JPGTaylor (right), whose courses include those on areas of political science research, American political institutions and political psychology, will explore the impact public opinion has on foreign policy.

It’s a subject he’s well familiar with. Last spring he taught a course in “Political Psychology,” and this semester Taylor will explore “American Foreign Policy” with his students.

“This class and this topic are important,” Taylor said. “After World War II and the development of IGOs (inter-government organizations) and NGOs (non-governmental organizations), people thought that there was a chance that the United States – and the world, generally – could be moving to a period without significant armed conflict. We see that’s just not true, to this point.

“We have issues in the Middle East with ISIS and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the United States. There’s 9/11 and Al-Qaeda. In what ways does war generally come out of American culture and affect American culture? That’s what we’ll talk about at the forum, and the class that I’ll teach this spring plays into that topic very nicely.”

According to Taylor, public opinion affects wars. If policymakers frame victory in such a way that people believe a war is winnable and in some way desirable, he explained, they will deal with high levels of casualties of war that they might otherwise not have.

“However, if a war is framed in terms of casualties, people will not support it. Defining a war in victory terms can change that behavior, which is important to understand,” Taylor said. “Framing is just one of the ways that human beings interact with information. It’s not necessarily good or bad. It’s just a reality.

“But, if you’re a critical consumer of information, you can see those frames and deal with the reality, rather than taking somebody’s framing of an issue one way or another,” he added.

Because Americans have a better understanding of the Middle East than they used to, “It seems like they are more discerning about foreign policy. However, they’re also very leery of military foreign policy because victory in the traditional sense just doesn’t ever seem to happen,” Taylor said.

For example, “It’s pretty clear that public opinion was very influential in keeping United States troops out of Syria. President Obama had the Senate on board. John McCain was very much a part of this, but then the president reversed course – partly because public opinion never got behind that. People were not in favor of it,” Taylor explained.

Politicians, he said, should pay attention to what Americans think.

“In the 21st century, we have methods of getting scientifically objective ways to correctly measure what the general American public feels,” Taylor said. “Public opinion and policy action are hugely important if you want to understand exactly how the American people affect government on a daily basis. Public opinion is shockingly accurate. It’s there and it’s good, and we should use it.”

For more information about the “Four Freedoms Forum,” go to www.nrm.org.

Above photo courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum