Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. So said philosopher George Santayana in 1905 in his treatise, “The Life of Reason.” Today we are at war in Iraq, on a fool’s mission to thwart Al Qaeda, which Iraq under Saddam Hussein would not tolerate. We allowed ourselves, or our senators and congressmen allowed themselves, to be lied to and led into a war based on entirely false information. This is a matter of public record and does not even merit discussion (though President Bush is still looking for, i.e., hopes to find, such weapons somewhere in Iraq).
Bush is not intellectually the brightest star in the firmament, as even his most ardent supporters will agree, but if he had taken the time to read a little history, perhaps he would have been less eager to make war in the Middle East. Indeed, if he had simply learned the lessons of Vietnam, he would have hesitated to attack Iraq. But assuming that he, or someone in his administration, remembered the disaster of Vietnam, he could have argued that Iraq “would be different.”
But consider the past. “The past is prelude to the present,” some wise man said (I can’t remember who, but no matter). In 1920, according to “The Last Iraqi Insurgency,” an article by Niall Ferguson that appeared in the op-ed section of the April 18 issue of The New York Times, the British attempted to drive the Ottoman Turks out of Iraq. The parallel to our 2003 invasion of Iraq is eerily familiar. Gen. Frederick Stanley Maude declared at the time, “Our armies to do not come to your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.”
They ran into a hornet’s nest of opposition and suffered more than 2,000 dead and wounded. They finally quelled the inevitable revolt, but only by the use of indiscriminate bombing that repelled the British public.
And their “exit strategy”? I don’t know if they planned one, but troops remained there until 1955, 35 years later.
Never have wars of aggression or conquest been successful. Every empire, from the Roman, the Spanish, to the British, has ended with the “empire” shrunk eventually to the land of the aggressors or the empire-builders. Recent attempts, from 1800 on (the Napoleonic wars, World Wars I and II, and the Vietnam War) have lasted no more than 10 years.
Will we never learn? Doesn’t anyone read history? People don’t like to be invaded and dominated by foreigners and will kick them out at the earliest opportunity. But Iraq is different, isn’t it?
No. It’s the same as the past. And those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Wright Salisbury is a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and founder of the Alliance for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Understanding. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.