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Examining narrative as a public opinion tool illuminates a truer picture of how a nation sees itself at war


Compelling narratives are integral to successful foreign policy, military strategy, and international relations. Yet often narrative is conceived so broadly it can be hard to identify. The formation of strategic narratives is informed by the stories governments think their people tell, rather than those they actually tell. This book examines the stories told by a broad cross-section of British society about their country’s past, present, and future role in war, using in-depth interviews with 67 diverse citizens. It brings to the fore the voices of ordinary people in ways typically absent in public opinion research.
Always at War complements a significant body of quantitative research into British attitudes to war, and presents an alternative case in a field dominated by US public opinion research. Rather than perceiving distinct periods between war and peace, British citizens see their nation as so frequently involved in conflict that they consider the country to be continuously at war. At present, public opinion appears to be a stronger constraint on Western defense policy than ever.

Thomas Colley is a lecturer in War Studies at King’s College London.

“Tom Colley presents a fascinating analysis of how members of the British public understand their country’s security and defense policy, with a particular focus on their narratives of past, present, and future wars. The author provides a valuable contribution to work in this field by outlining how ordinary UK citizens narrate their understanding of military intervention.”
—Alister Miskimmon, Queen’s University Belfast

“This is a work for both a scholarly and practitioner audiences. For the former, those doing work on foreign policy analysis, security studies, IR theory, emotions, public opinion, and other issue areas will find this of interest. For the latter, the narratives themselves should be useful for understanding the ‘populist’ moment as well as for anyone interested in how people translate elite narratives to their everyday lives.”
—Brent Steele, University of Utah

"The wide-ranging views on Britain’s imperial past revealed by Colley’s interviews is one of the most compelling and illuminating aspects of the analysis."
-H-Net Reviews

- Allison Abra