Who is naive about war?

The meme that supporters of peace are hopelessly “naive” has been pounded into our heads so many times that most people never bother to question it. They should. Like many bits of supposedly conventional wisdom that the media saturates us with, this one is not only false, but it’s a one-hundred percent inversion of the truth. It’s the hawks who are hopelessly naive, while the doves possess suitable cynicism to accurately predict human behavior.

The Iraq War is one of many perfect examples. The general hawk position was that turning Iraq into a safe, stable democracy would be quite easy. Hence some bad predictions such as:

“I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” - Donald Rumsfeld.

Obviously I could list many more failed prophecies, but that’s not the point of my post. The point is to get to the root of what led to this mistaken thinking. The root of the problem is simple. Those who advocated a “war of liberation” did not have a realistic view of how the Iraqi people would respond to the presense of American troops and a government established by the American military by force. They believed that we’d establish a government like this, and that it would get total, or almost total, support from the Iraqi people. Here, again, is Rumsfeld explaining what we can expect from the Iraqi people:

“They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that’s what’s going to happen here.” (cite )

That sort of talk just doesn’t account for the true nature of the human race. There’s no reason why an entire population would walk happily into the arms of a government established by foreigners and agree to accept it without disagreement, not in any circumstances. And certainly not in these circumstances, where most of the population in question is primitive religious fanatics. If you have people who are raised to believe that their religion is not compatible with democracy, then they won’t accept it just because of a few pretty speeches. It’s simple logic that they’d end up shooting falafel dealers, but hawks just didn’t do the logic.

Of course, hawks on our own board also expressed rather ridiculous idealism:

“So far, the only real resistance the coalition forces are getting are either from the republican guard, or solders forced to fight, because their wives and children are being held at gunpoint.”

This line that the only people resisting the Americans were old soldiers from Saddam’s army, rather than Shi’ite and Sunni militias trying to grab power, was touted by the hawks for more than a year. Yet it never reflected reality.

Some other people did:

“Post-war Iraq, with or without US occupation (sorry, liberation), the remaining factions will fight violently with each other. … Iraq has three major ethnic groups, forced to live together under borders drawn by colonialists. We’ll be damn lucky if Iraq looks anywhere near as good as Afghanistan (and not that Afghanistan looks that great).”

“We’ll leave a comparitively small peacekeeping force, but it won’t be sufficient to actually control the entire country, and meanwhile there will be constant skirmishes with hostile forces.”

And of course it was a mere two weeks after the war started that Collonsbury told us this about Iraqi sentiments:

So who, truly, is the more naive?

There’s not just one thing called “war” in the world. There are hundreds of completely unique political situations, and the use of the military plays different roles in all of them. In the case of the Iraq occupation, depending on whom you believe, either there was a very misguided and naive attempt to “liberate the Iraqi people,” or there was a more cynical and goal-oriented reason for being there (Oil, Israel, you name it.) Either way, there is much more than just idealism and cynicism at play in terms of the motivations of those involved.

Yes, one of many perfect examples, but just because someone is a dove in one instance doesn’t mean they won’t be a hawk in the next. There were many people who were all for the invasion of Afghanistan but wanted no part of Iraq for instance. Although I had lukewarm support for the war in Iraq, which I now regret, I never thought those against it were naive I just didn’t agree with them at the time. On the other hand I didn’t hear very many good reasons from the doves on why the invasion of Afghanistan shouldn’t have happened.

Were the doves right in appeasing Hitler in the 1930’s to avoid having to fight? Were the doves right that we should never have invaded Afghanistan? In general I think people who automatically feel one way or the other about any war are naive, or perhaps just not very good thinkers, regardless of whether they are hawks or doves.


The Iraq war is bad. Therefore war is bad.

Which logical fallacy is that?

There are many options other than war. And I prefer nearly all of them to killing other humans.

Unfortunately adopting this position as a nation would probably lead to a lot of dead Americans.

Quite the dilemma… :frowning:

I think dedicated doves can be hopelessly naïve to the extent they are willing to ignore very real threats in the world.

I think dedicated hawks can be hopelessly naïve about the costs of war and expected outcomes. (It seems that every generation must learn the costs of war anew.)

I think the wise person is neither consistently hawkish nor consistently dovish. Different circumstances require different responses.

There are many wars, but as far as the instances where western powers launch an invasion in order to nation-build in the third world, common threads run through all the debates. The idea that those who refuse to join the cheerleading for a nation-building project are always naive is an old, old idea. While the specific language changes, the argument that peaceniks are naive, gullible, too faithful in the goodness of humankind, etc… remains more or less the same. Arguments used to hammer those who opposed to second Iraq War were also used in the Vietnam War, the Spanish-American War, and others. The debate in France in the 50’s and 60’s about whether to fight to hold on to Algeria, or in Britain at the end of the ninenteenth century regarding the Boer War.

I would suggest that in all cases, war advocates make similar mistakes to some degree. They trick themselves into believing that the native population consists of a huge mass of people who will happily accept the rule of outsiders. (Or, if not happily, then at least there won’t be a continuing resistance.) In some cases the invading power won the war, in some cases not. But in all cases, the realities turned out more difficult than the war adovcates predicted, because their view of human nature is off. In all cases there was a movement for peace in the country that started the war, and in all cases it was the peace people who were the more cynical, and thus the more accurate at understanding the situation.

Perhaps you could provide us with some examples because I’m not quite sure where you’re coming from. Were the doves right about Korea?


I don’t think the “naive about war” sentiment is referring to politicians, nor most people with a brain. (And I would also add that I would suspect Rumsfeld quote is only talking about the initial conquest and not the occupation. If he was planning ahead for an occupation stage, my guess would be that he was dropping it from his speeches to make things sound better. I.e. being a politician.)

The naivety issue is when it comes to the whole “Oh my God! Americans are DYING we have to call them back NOW!” Why yes, person, it’s called “war.” In war people die.

Whether those lives are worth it is a political stance (e.g. Republicans think it is, Dems don’t), but being caught unaware of the fact that Americans are going to die is an issue of naivety–and one I would tend to associate with the younger generation of Democrats or people who became Democrats due to having had that same shock occur to them in their youth.

For them the issue isn’t whether it is worth it or not, but rather just that all war is bad, regardless that you might be fighting to save all the future generations of a country from several hundred more years of genocide and despotism.

All cases being…Iraq?

The only other country we have tried to occupy was Japan which went over quite well as I understand it.

Not precisely true. We occupied Germany after World War II just as we occupied Japan. Germany was divided into four Allied Occupation Zones, one zone each for the United Kingdom, United States, USSR, and France. Within their respective occupation zones the occupying power had governmental and military authority in the region.

Berlin was also likewise divided in four by the allies. In 1949 the American, British, and French zones were combined and reformed as the Federal Republic of Germany. The non-soviet zones of Berlin were merged to created West Berlin…and the rest is history.

The Allies (including the United States) had yet another similar arrangement with post-war Austria, as it was divided into four separate occupation zones until 1955 when it was reestablished as an independent country.

We also occupied the Philippines after the Spanish-American war. Just as even more of an aside, the occupation of the Philippines is probably the best comparison in American history to the current Iraq occupation.

For this debate at hand to actually be salvageable I think the OP needs to clearly define “Hawks” and “Doves” for the purposes of this debate.

Are “hawks” any group that was pro-war prior to the start of hostilities throughout history, and across states? Are “doves” any group that was anti-war prior to the start of hostilities throughout history, and across states?

That seems to be the general vibe I’m getting, and if so there’s a lot of problems with the OP and its premises. But, as hawks/doves is in dire need of definition for the sake of this argument I will wait for the OP to do so.

So…in fifty years most of everyone will not even remember that we did it?

Obviously there’s a whole spectrum from being pro-war to anti-war, and many folks can favor some wars and oppose others, but that doesn’t make the labels useless. Hawks are people towards one end of the spectrum who have war high up on their list of preferable ways to deal with international disputes, and doves place war low on their list. How these beliefs play out in any one situation will vary, but I find that the arguments fall into the same general patterns over and over.