Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Ronald Kramer

Second Advisor

Dr. Barry Goetz

Third Advisor

Dr. Gregory Howard

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Paul Clements


Sociology of war, military-industrial complex, power elite, Iraq War, ideology


Sociologists have paid little attention to the structural causes of American participation in wars. Consequently, the discipline offers few theoretical perspectives on American war making. Sociological theories that do exist fall under two headings: state-centric and Marxist theories. Both lack prima facie plausibility. In this dissertation, I advance a unique, alternative theoretical framework that I argue offers a more tenable theory of American militarism in the post-World War II period. The elite model of war mobilization, as I refer to it, consists of five interrelated structural causes of American participation in wars: (1) state-capitalist imperialism; (2) elite control of public policy; (3) imperial ideology; (4) elite control of the mass media; and (5) elite influence on academia. The foundations of the theory are a military-industrial complex theory and a power elite model of politics and culture.

Most recent theoretical work on the causes of American militarism focuses on the 2003 Iraq War. In this study, then, I present a process tracing analysis of the invasion of Iraq that demonstrates that an elite model of war mobilization provides a fuller, more historically accurate explanation of the Iraq War than either state-centric or Marxist theories. The elite model suggests that two pressures for war emerge from the military-industrial complex: a drive for concentrated decision-making power in the executive branch, and profit-making opportunities for private defense firms. A major finding of this study is that the Bush administration’s internal reasons for invading Iraq correspond to these two imperatives. In turn, the power elite social status of key administration officials largely explains why they accepted and acted on these imperatives. A virulent form of imperial ideology also contributed to their decision to invade Iraq. As also predicted by the model, the Bush administration controlled the mass media marketing of their war campaign, successfully mobilizing public support for the war. And though the war was not widely accepted among academics, many prominent academics supported the war on the basis of neo-Wilsonian assumptions that were popular in the academy in the 1990s and which also informed the administration’s worldview and Iraq policy.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access