Monday, August 28, 2006

Illusions and False Expectations

Gabriel Kolko, from his excellent study, Century of War (after discussing the extent to which Japan knew full well the folly of its attack on Pearl Harbor):
With the exception of Japan in 1941, all sides [...] have initiated wars full of illusions and false expectations as to their future course, and the point is less that their actions were just or unjust but simply that they were counterproductive in terms of the attainment of their objectives. They not only failed to achieve these in the majority of instances, but they left their own nations politically and socially traumatized, thereby making possible revolutions from both the Left and the Right that otherwise would surely never have occurred.

Crucial to fathoming the cause of the ruling class's endemic, systematic myopia is the similarity of the formal and informal methods by which key decision makers are selected and molded in all nations, regardless of their political structures. Such socialization processes are never based on abstract and objective rationality or norms of merit, but unrelentingly weed out very early in their careers those individuals who are likely to treat information as a neutral, rational means to clarify and help formulate policies that have yet to be sharply defined--to ask, thereby, uncomfortable, critical questions about basic issues that interfere with the predetermined assumptions, goals, and interests of a class-dominated system and the men who run it. At the levels that count, there are rarely, if ever, dissidents within ruling classes who can--or choose to--alter policies before they become irrational or self-destructive.

[...]

The United States' consistent pursuit of counterinsurgency warfare after 1947--ranging from supplying aid to proxies to the use of its own troops--notwithstanding its frequent political or military defeats, has never been challenged within key decision-making circles.

[...]

...it is precisely the factor of careerism and ambition that produces a monolithic consensus among a nation's leaders, nearly all of whom unquestioningly make or endorse the unchallenged grave errors that lead to war.

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The most significant aspect of intelligence has been the astonishingly great extent to which those paid to produce it distorted it or the rulers of nations ignored that part that did not justify their misconceived and dangerous preconceptions and policies.

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Ultimately, the world in [the 20th] century has marched into its increasingly destructive major wars with no safeguards against the irrationality of its doctrines and objectives or against the gravely dysfunctional but relentless political and class needs--both domestic and foreign--of the major aggressors. What was called intelligence became part of an ideologically and politically self-reinforcing system, which complex or often elegant rhetoric buttressed but that repeatedly eliminated any sane, restraining impulses that nominally nonauthoritarian nations still had the latent capacity to consider. Rationality was not the essence of the system but rather its antithesis, and what was deemed "intelligence" became a justification of the propensity of nations to commit fatal errors that only intensified their illusions and false expectations and made wars vastly more costly, both humanly and materially, as the century advanced.

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