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Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq: three delusional wars

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U.S. is faced with a potentially catastrophic collapse of the post-invasion state it tried to set up in Iraq. Incredibly, the mainstream media are now broadcasting comments and advice on Iraq from Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and other architects of the 2003 invasion.

The fact that their opinions have an audience adds an air of domestic insanity to a dangerous foreign crisis. In 2002-03 these people were misleading us about mushroom clouds and weapons of mass destruction, and constantly hinting (falsely) that Saddam was responsible for 9/11.

Why haven't they been shamed into embarrassed silence? After all, as a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll tells us, 71% of Americans now say that the war in Iraq "wasn't worth it." Think of what this implies.

According to Iraq Body Count , there have been 125,000-140,0000 documented violent civilian deaths in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Nearly 4500 American military personnel were killed. According to the 30 expert co-authors of a report ("Costs of War," 6/14) from Brown University, the U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion. With an additional $500 billion for veterans care, the total rises to $2.2 trillion (in constant dollars) over the next four decades. Most Americans now think none of this was "worth it."

The American military death toll in Afghanistan is over 2300. "Costs of War" puts the total expenses (incl. veterans care) for the Afghanistan war at $2.15 trillion, and it estimates that at least 21,000 civilians have died violently since the U.S. invasion of 2001. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that "66 percent of Americans say the [Afghanistan war], which began with nearly unanimous support, has not been worth fighting."

In the Vietnam War 58,200 American personnel and up to 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers were killed. Vietnam's official estimate of war deaths from 1954 to 1975 is 2 million civilians and 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters. According to the Associated Press (3/19//13), "A congressional analysis estimated the cost of fighting the war was $738 billion in 2011 dollars," and veterans benefits have separately cost $270 billion since 1970. In March of 2013 Gallup found that 69-70% of adults aged 50 or over (old enough to remember the war) believed that the Vietnam War was a "mistake."

The U.S., after withdrawing in abject humiliation from Vietnam in 1975, restored diplomatic relations in 1997 with the nationalist communist regime it had fought for two decades. The two nations now have an increasingly friendly and growing trade relationship.

As American and coalition troops end their 13-year combat mission in Afghanistan, the latest National Intelligence Estimate is pessimistic about the chances of survival for the Kabul government against a resurgent Taliban. In Iraq a fanatic Islamist army is establishing a jihadist caliphate and the American-installed Baghdad government is near collapse.

So, most Americans feel a grotesque buyer's regret over the killing of 65,000 American troops and 2-3 million foreign civilians at a cost of $5-6 trillion in three wars. Yet even these huge numbers fail to do justice to the suffering and the lost opportunities these wars have inflicted on the U.S., its allies, and the ravaged nations where we waged war.

Have enough Americans at last come to recognize the delusion that led us into these disastrous wars? Or will our government once again wage a preventive war of choice against a non-western society in the belief that its battered people will then gratefully adopt an imitation democracy? What's happening today in Iraq makes this question urgent.

One of the most troublesome defects of human nature is the capacity for willful stupidity. This kind of stupidity occurs even in very intelligent and knowledgeable people who actually choose to ignore what they know or could learn, and choose to think unintelligently and illogically.

Philosophers have always found this capacity paradoxical. After all, how could anyone want not to know what they're doing, or want to think unclearly about their actions? What's to like about that? Yet it happens all the time.

The usual explanation is that humans are often ruled by passionate beliefs that dominate their mental processes so that they think and even perceive whatever fits these beliefs, while shutting out whatever contradicts them. Fundamental moral and political beliefs are among our most intense; we build our self-esteem and sense of identity on them. That's why willful stupidity in morality and politics is so common.

Patriotism is very susceptible to this disease. Patriotism is a virtue if it is the willingness to do good for one's country and defend it against aggression. But it can degenerate into the homeland-uber-alles, my-country-right-or-wrong variety, the kind that trumpets American exceptionalism.

It then becomes a vice, leading to self-deception about our history and a distorted view of other nations. It becomes the wilfully stupid view that we can do to other nations what we wouldn't let them do to us.

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Brian Cooney Social Media Pages: Facebook Page       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

I'm a retired philosophy professor at Centre College. My last book was Posthumanity-Thinking Philosophically about the Future (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). I am an anti-capitalist.

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