MetaTOC stay on top of your field, easily

Why do the victors kill the vanquished? Explaining political violence in post-World War II Italy

Journal of Peace Research

Published online on


When World War II ended in Italy, the violence did not. During the following year, about 10,000 individuals were summarily executed. Why does armed violence continue after a war’s end? Why do the victors kill the vanquished enemies? Why do they do so in certain places but not in others? We do not have sufficiently satisfying answers to these questions. The literature makes sense of violence if it happens during or preceding an armed conflict, but overlooks it when it occurs after the war is over. We need to fill this gap. Not only does post-conflict violence merit consideration as a phenomenon in itself but also it is crucial to understand postwar politics. The structured comparison of two provinces in Italy at the end of WWII shows that existing explanations cannot fully account for the spatial variation of the killings there. I offer an alternative argument: post-conflict violence aims to influence a country’s political future. In post-WWII Italy, the strategic calculations and the political preferences of former resistance combatants, combined with the legacy of the past war, determined the variation in the killings. Historical cases are a major untapped source of theory-building in conflict and peace studies. The micro-level dynamics generating violence at the local level often follow similar patterns across space and time. Thus, understanding extrajudicial executions in post-WWII Italy can illuminate today’s international intervention strategies addressing similar patterns of violence in different post-conflict settings.