The high cost of ignoring history
“If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us!” – S. T. Coleridge. There are a few lessons in our own history, which if noted, should have been sufficient warning that an invasion of Iraq would be a costly mistake.Our two early wars with Great Britain – the American Revolution, and the War of 1812 – are cases in point. In both instances, a ragtag ill-prepared and poorly-equipped militia took on the greatest military power in the world, a confrontation that conventional wisdom gave little chance of succeeding. And in both wars, American forces lost almost all of the battles, but won the war. Why? Because Great Britain was fighting an idea that was stronger than military might – self-determination. In the Revolutionary War, we adopted a hit-and-run strategy that over six years wore down England’s willingness to continue the fight. And in the War of 1812, though we were blockaded by the British fleet and British forces had occupied and ransacked our nation’s capitol and burned the White House, Wellington, fresh from defeating Napoleon at Waterloo, advised the British Parliament that it would be hopeless to continue the war with the United States. Parliament, taking his advice, acceded to a peace treaty.Our misadventure in Vietnam is another lesson of history that we should have heeded. Our irrational fear of anything that smacked of Communism led us to jump into an internal conflict after the French were smart enough to pull their forces out. Once again, it was the strongest military power in the world, fighting against an idea – the desire of a people for freedom from Western colonialism. The outcome of the guerrilla war that followed was inevitable, in spite of over half a million troops that we poured into the fray, at a cost of nearly 60,000 American lives.The conduct and outcome of the four-decade Cold War with Russia should also have taught us something. The Russian economy could not keep up the cost of the constantly escalating arms race with the United States, and ultimately collapsed in the effort. The insurgents in Iraq and al-Qaida have adopted a similar strategy against us. Their motley gangs of insurgents and an apparently limitless number of suicide bombers, with their low-cost car bombs and improvised explosive devices, and the terrorist threat they present, are causing us to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan and on homeland security – potentially as much as ten thousand times what it is costing them. And our current policy of keeping and possibly increasing our military involvement in Iraq is merely playing into their hands. They are undoubtedly dancing in the streets as they see our national debt soaring toward nine trillion dollars.President Bush has said he will “study” the recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, but from all outward appearances, what he intends to do is nothing more than a warmed-over version of the failed policy he has committed us to for the past three years, only with a few thousand more troops added.The real question is, is he merely ignoring the lessons of history, or is he totally ignorant of them? He has stated with some pride (and even more accuracy) that he was never much of a student. Maybe he never even studied history, but if he did, he certainly didn’t learn much from it.The current situation, with a stubbornly obsessive president in charge of our ship of state, has an eerie resemblance to Captain Ahab, driving his ship and its crew in his implacable pursuit of Moby Dick, the great white whale that was the object of his deranged hatred. It all ended with him madly attacking the whale and going under with it, entangled in the harpoon lines, and the ship being sucked into the vortex created by the whale swimming in a circle around it.
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