American Political Science Review

Does Combat Experience Foster Organizational Skill? Evidence from Ethnic Cleansing during the Partition of South Asia


a1 Stanford University

a2 Yale University


Can combat experience foster organizational skills that engender political collective action? We use the arbitrary assignment of troops to combat in World War II to identify the effect of combat experience on two channels that change local ethnic composition and future political control: ethnic cleansing and co-ethnic immigration. During the Partition of South Asia, we find that ethnically mixed districts whose veterans were exposed to greater combat exhibited greater co-ethnic immigration and minority ethnic cleansing, with minority out-migration achieved with lower loss-of-life. Further, where ethnic groups had been in complementary economic roles or the minority received greater combat experience, there was less ethnic cleansing. We interpret these results as reflecting the strategic role of ethnic cleansing and co-ethnic immigration by groups seeking political control and the role of combat experience in enhancing organizational skills at credibly threatening violence and engaging in collective action.


c1 Saumitra Jha is Assistant Professor of Political Economy, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, 655 Knight Way, Stanford, CA 94305 (

c2 Steven Wilkinson is Nilekani Professor of India and South Asian Studies and Professor of Political Science, Yale University, 115 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06520 (


  We owe particular thanks to Prashant Bharadwaj, Asim Khwaja, and Atif Mian for helpful comments and for sharing their data. We also thank the editors, three anonymous referees, Daron Acemoglu, Chris Blattman, Glenn Carroll, Avner Greif, Donald Horowitz, John Huber, Kimuli Kasara, Keith Krehbiel, Katrina Kosec, Barry Posen, Bethany Lacina, Alex Lee, Jessica Leino, Aprajit Mahajan, Karthik Muralidharan, Dilip Mookherjee, Paul Niehaus, Biju Rao, Huggy Rao, Jacob Shapiro, Ken Shotts, Emmanuel Teitelbaum, Ashutosh Varshney, and numerous seminar participants for very useful suggestions. Cameron Ballard-Rosa, Emma Alexander, Jessica Lei, Mona Mehta, and Ravi Pillai provided excellent research assistance. A listing of data sources is available as a supplemental Online Appendix at