Iraq: The Lessons of History

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A few years
ago, a think-tank in Los Angeles asked me as an historian for my
views on the coming war with Iraq. I replied, I was against the
war as almost all wars lead to unanticipated and unintended consequences.
Often so amazing as to be beyond human imagination at the time they
are started. "Just look back in history," I said. This
is not what the scholars anticipated. They expected me to point
out the pros and cons of a war in Iraq and dealing with a conquered
nation in the Middle East. Now that the war has gone badly, not
as anticipated, the wisdom of history speaks out: "I could
have told you, why didn't you learn from the past?" All history
teaches the same, the unexpected consequences of war.

The Viet Nam
War should be a lesson for America on the matter of considering
withdrawing from the war in Iraq. President Nixon wanted to continue
the war in Viet Nam because "if Saigon fell all Southeast Asia
would fall" — that is Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore,
Indonesia, North Borneo, Philippines would go to communism. Considering
these feared consequences the loss of 60,000 troops in the war would
seem to be justified. Yet Saigon did fall, but not one of the countries
in Southeast Asia fell to Communism. Nixon and his advisers were
dead wrong! Was the war a waste? The problem was America's fear
of the awesome power of communism — that it would take over the
world if not checked and defeated — not aware it was a faulty system
that had feet of clay, doomed to failure if given enough time. Communism’s
most energizing force was America believing it was an almost invincible
force for evil. It was for evil, but not as invincible as thought.
It was doomed to failure. America's assault on communism energized
and perpetuated it. If left alone it would have withered and died
much earlier as an unworkable system.

In today's
war in Iraq are we faced with a situation like Viet Nam and President
Nixon who told of the awesome consequences if we pulled out? Today
President Bush believes that the whole Middle East will turn to
chaos and go to radical Moslems if we pull out. Barry Goldwater
had the situation understood when he opposed Reagan sending the
Marines to Lebanon. His reason? "All those people want to do
is kill each other." Are we not energizing the fundamentalist
Moslems like we did the communists in Viet Nam? If they take over
the Moslem world in the Middle East, what kind of a civilization
are they capable of establishing? Will not the moderate civilized
Moslems get fed up with these psychopathic killers and root them
out of their world? It is their problem and they and they alone
can deal with it in the long term. The unintended and unimaginable
consequences so common to wars have taken over in Iraq much to our
leaders’ surprise but not history's surprise.

Let us turn
back in history. Take the end of the greatest civilization of the
ancient world, Greece. In the Peloponnesian War between Athens and
Sparta the war leader of Athens, Pericles,
had the people and soldiers crowd behind the walls of the city in
close quarters as a defensive war measure. In these close quarters
a great plague swept through Athens and killed a large number of
the inhabitants, even Pericles. Greece never recovered from the
losses caused by the plague though the war dragged on for many years.
Thus an unanticipated factor caused by the war brought an end to
the greatest civilization in the ancient world. In a similar fashion,
Assyria was taking over the world. It had conquered the Kingdom
of Israel and taken the Israelis into captivity to become the Lost
Tribes of Israel. Only the small nation of Judah remained, 1/10
the size. The Assyrians camped around Judah ready for an easy conquest
until a plague hit their camp and they broke the siege and fled.
An unanticipated consequence like in Greece.

Take a look
at Europe over the last 1000 years. At the innumerable wars and
peace treaties that followed. There are as many maps of Europe as
there were wars in Europe. Poland changed size and shape too many
times to count, so also many other countries like Hungary and Austria
and Lithuania. War was behind all these changes. Take 1914 to 1950
and look at the changes, almost beyond belief, caused by those two
great wars.

World War I
started in 1914. The British government told the nation, "The
boys will be home by Christmas." They did not come home for
over 4 years leaving over 800,000 in graves in Europe. The British
Empire never recovered from this loss of so many of its intelligent
young men. The same was true for France, and worse for Russia, which
was so weakened by the war that the 300-year-old Romanoff dynasty
collapsed leaving a wasteland for communists. To assure the dynasty
would not recover Lenin had the Tsar and his family murdered. It
took 80 years for the Russian people to shake off the bondage of
communism, even opening up the churches for a very religious people.
Russia lost most of its European empire.

The Middle
East was remade creating Iraq and all the many new countries out
of the Ottoman Empire with Britain and France in charge. Germany
lost its overseas empire in Africa and the Pacific, and much of
Europe. The Treaty of Versailles set the stage for World War II
as the world was turned upside down in a war that was to be over
by Christmas! In the Nuremberg war trials after World War II, against
the German leaders who started World War II, the lawyers for the
German leaders tried to set up a defense that the war was an extension
of WWI and justified because of the unjust peace at Versailles.
The court refused to allow this defense. With the passing of time
many historians believe this view had merit. The war started by
empires colliding with each other as with most of Europe's wars
for centuries. America did not participate in the final peace treaty
and let Britain and France run the show. An embittered Germany sought
revenge not only in the territorial losses, but also for the reparations
that wrecked the German economy. Talk about unanticipated consequences!

In the 19th
century consider the American Civil War. Lincoln wanted to call
up troops for three or four months. What started in April was to
be over in the summer. It lasted 4 years killing 650,000 men. The
South would not accept defeat, saying, "The South will rise
again." Not so. The Europeans followed the war intensively
especially on slavery. Slavery in 1860 was on its way out on the
world stage, in the Netherlands, Denmark, France, in Britain as
early as 1833. Even for 30 million serfs in Russia. The European
scholars thought the best way to get rid of slavery in America was
for the South to win! Since the South was a small nation dependent
on trade the world would demand that slavery be abolished if it
was to trade with Europe, so hostile were the major nations to slavery.
While the Lincoln government went out of its way to please the South
on slavery, as the war carried on it was the slaves who demanded
freedom and got it with the war's help. One British journalist wrote
at the beginning of the war, "Lincoln was to give slavery more
protection than it had ever enjoyed if only the South would come
back in the Union." Today Lincoln lovers forget that.

Consider the
American Revolutionary War, a glorious historical event we have
been celebrating for over 200 years, but it was not so glorious
for African Americans. One British writer in the 1860s wrote that
the worse thing in British history was to tax the American colonies
and set off the Revolution in 1776. Why? Because if the American
colonies had remained in the British Empire, then in 1833 when Parliament
abolished slavery throughout the Empire that would have abolished
slavery in America over 30 years earlier than it was. In many of
the former colonies to this day they celebrate "Emancipation
Day" the first Monday in August of each year as a national
holiday. Such is one of the not well-known unintentional consequences
of the War for Independence.

Second World War saw the nations of Germany and Japan reduced to
simple commercial nations with no military, naval or air power.
These nations started World War II with great hopes and in the beginning
great successes. With Britain, France and the Netherlands involved
in a war in Europe it was easy pickings for the Japanese. Only America
stood in the way of Japanese conquest of all of the Far East. The
amazing Japanese success at Pearl Harbor made everything look like
easy pickings for sure. The disasters that ultimately followed to
Japan were unbelievable as well as unanticipated consequences. What
war is known for doing — the unanticipated. Even for Russia, one
of the victors, in the loss of life in millions of millions of people.
In 1970 a taxi driver in the Soviet Union pointed out to me how
there were so few adults of middle years just young and old people,
as for people in the middle years few were left as a result of the
loss of life in what they called the Great Patriotic War. The Russian
people had no stomach for another war, he said.

the major colonies of the great powers disappeared. The war hastened
that. Colonies are a thing of the past as all the efforts to acquire
colonies came to naught hastened by the wars. Look at a map of the
world in the 1930's; Britain rule was most everywhere except for
French and Dutch colonies. Today nothing remains. Winston Churchill
did not want to be a party to the dismemberment of the British Empire,
on which the sun never set.

What will be
the unintended and unanticipated consequences of today's war with
Iraq? Anybody's guess will do. Beware of the so-called experts.

31, 2007

Charles Adams (send him mail)
the author of When
in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession
and Those
Dirty Rotten Taxes: The Tax Revolts That Built America
. Much
of this material and more on this subject can be found in his book,
Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization

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