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Viewpoints: False beliefs can only be combated by knowledge, doubt and logic

  • Rick Sirvint Courtesy Photo—

  • Rick Sirvint Courtesy Photo—


Monday, February 18, 2019 11:55AM

Adolf Hitler wrote that the best propaganda is based upon repeating a simple idea 1,000 times. Even if the idea is “apparently crazy,” it will finally be “believed.” This is the basis of politics and advertising.

The danger of this is that if the idea is false, not based on reality, it begins to influence public opinion and public policies in a negative way. False beliefs can only be combated by knowledge, doubt, and logic, i.e., critical thinking.

The example I will use is a statement made constantly in the media that America’s involvement in Afghanistan is America’s longest war. That statement is usually given in the context that America is engaged in a terrible conflict against an invincible foe for no rational reason.

Factually, Afghanistan is not our longest war. The idea of a “longest war” has no significance by itself. Is it the costliest, the least successful, the most justified or unjustified?

During 2018 the American military suffered one fatality per month. During World War II our military had an average of 9,050 fatalities per month over 45 months. .America also had less than half the population we have now.

Afghanistan is a guerrilla war (little war)involving a small number of our military personnel. It in no way compares with World War II, when 16 million Americans served, there was rationing, a draft, and the possibility of defeat.

I believe that the longest war in our history was the war against the Sioux or Dakota and their Cheyenne and Arapaho allies, fought on the Great Plains from 1854 to the Battle (or Massacre) of Wounded Knee in 1890 (36 years). Although there were short periods of peace during that war, it involved the same people on each side fighting over the same issue – land. The famous leaders of this war: Custer, Sheridan, Sherman, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, were participants in a singular struggle and they regarded it as such.

Another candidate for America’s longest war was the conflict against the Seminole Indians in Florida. It lasted from 1816 to1858, 42 years. The Seminole War had significant peace periods within it, so I still consider the Sioux War longer.

Depending on your perspective, you could consider all the wars against indigenous people, in what became America, to be one war. It went from the war against the Powhattan Confederacy in Virginia (1622-1644) the Pequot War (1639) and King Philip’s War(1674-1678), both in New England, until Wounded Knee (1890) – a total of 268 years. It should be pointed out that the “indigenous people” were not really indigenous. They only arrived earlier than others.

The longest war in history was the Catholic “Reconquista” of Spain from the Muslims. That war lasted from 711 to 1492, 781 years. Like my other examples, there were some intervals of peace, but it was, basically, the same two sides in conflict over the same land. The Spanish and later Mexicans fought from 1524-1901, 377 years, to conquer the Mayans in Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Also, technically and legally we are still at war with North Korea, 1950-2019, 69 years. An armistice stops fighting but it is not a peace treaty formally ending a war

The duration of our involvement in Afghanistan should be based on whether we consider it in our national interest to prevent the establishment of a terrorist supporting state there. We were attacked in 2011 from the Afghanistan based Al-Qaeda. What price are we prepared to pay to prevent that from happening again? That, and not the war’s duration, is only what is relevant.

The late British military historian, John Keegan, and the North Vietnam’s General Dung both wrote that the major military weakness of a western democracy, like the United States, is that public opinion will not support a long war. Impatience is our military weakness.

Rick Sirvint lives in Rindge.