Thought­less ac­tions that pro­voke ter­ri­ble con­se­quences

To­day’s lead­ers seem lit­tle wiser than the fool­ish who set off World War I

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Richard W. Rahn Richard W. Rahn is chair­man of Im­prob­a­ble Suc­cess Pro­duc­tions and on the board of the Amer­i­can Council for Cap­i­tal For­ma­tion.

April 6 marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the U.S. en­try into World War I— a war that claimed the lives of about 38 mil­lion peo­ple. It is cor­rectly known as the “war about noth­ing,” so why was it fought? The United States en­tered the war near the end, af­ter much of Europe had been bled into ex­haus­tion. Rel­a­tively speak­ing, U.S. deaths were few, about 118,000 from all causes, but a great tragedy for each of the fam­i­lies that suf­fered a loss (see en­closed chart).

The war be­gan af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of Arch­duke Franz Fer­di­nand of Aus­tria by Yu­goslav na­tion­al­ist

Gavrilo Prin­cip in Sara­jevo on

June 28, 1914. This act caused

Aus­tria to de­clare war on Ser­bia, which caused Ser­bia’s ally, Rus­sia, to de­clare war on Aus­tria, which caused Aus­tria’s ally, Ger­many, to de­clare war on Rus­sia. France was

Rus­sia’s ally, caus­ing Ger­many to also de­clare war on France, and Bri­tain was France’s ally, so it de­clared war on Ger­many, and so forth, un­til na­tions across the globe were in­volved.

There was no great prin­ci­ple at stake. The global blood­bath took place be­cause none of the lead­ers could think be­yond stage

I — that is, they failed to eval­u­ate the pos­si­ble con­se­quences of each step they took. Part of the tragic irony is that the lead­ers of three of the ma­jor pro­tag­o­nists, Em­peror Wil­helm II of Ger­many, Em­peror Ni­cholas of Rus­sia, and King Ge­orge V of the United King­dom were all cousins (grand­sons of Queen Vic­to­ria), who, even though on speak­ing terms, be­cause of per­sonal pride, were un­able to say “this is mad­ness” and rea­son to­gether — so 38 mil­lion peo­ple died. But that was just the be­gin­ning.

Worle War I caused the end of the old or­der, which had brought in­creas­ing world pros­per­ity up to 1914. The col­lapse of the rul­ing struc­tures and in­sti­tu­tions dur­ing and at the end of the war, along with un­rea­son­able de­mands on Ger­many for repa­ra­tions, caused many to em­brace those who would have nor­mally been con­sid­ered crack­pot dem­a­gogues — Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and others with their id­i­otic ide­olo­gies — no­tably Nazism and com­mu­nism. The Bri­tish econ­o­mist Lord Keynes warned in his clas­sic, “Eco­nomic Con­se­quences of the Peace,” that the new world or­der be­ing con­structed by the vic­tors at the end of World War I, in­clud­ing the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, Woodrow Wil­son, would lead to more in­sta­bil­ity than sta­bil­ity — and un­for­tu­nately, he was right.

The new in­sta­bil­ity re­sulted in World War II, in which it is es­ti­mated that more than 60 mil­lion peo­ple were killed, al­most dou­ble World War I losses, or about 3 per­cent of the world pop­u­la­tion at the time. Tens of mil­lions more were killed af­ter the war by the var­i­ous purges and famines, pri­mar­ily caused by the com­mu­nist regimes. Some­where be­tween 100 mil­lion and 200 mil­lion peo­ple lost their lives in the wars of the 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing those who were killed by their own gov­ern­ments — all stem­ming from a few bad de­ci­sions in 1914.

There is ten­dency to think that our lead­ers are now more en­light­ened and be­yond mak­ing de­ci­sions with­out care­fully think­ing through all of the pos­si­ble con­se­quences. The Viet­nam War did not work out as planned by Lyn­don John­son. There was the dou­ble fail­ure of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion to ob­tain the real facts be­fore in­vad­ing Iraq, and then re­al­is­ti­cally plan for the con­se­quences of vic­tory. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion com­pounded the er­ror by not think­ing through the con­se­quences of re­mov­ing all of the U.S. troops pre­ma­turely from Iraq, and not think­ing through the con­se­quences of get­ting rid of Col. Moam­mar Gad­hafi in Libya. Econ­o­mists and math­e­ma­ti­cians have de­vel­oped elab­o­rate game the­ory mod­els, which are used to un­der­stand bet­ter the prob­a­bil­i­ties of out­comes of many dif­fer­ent choices, and the out­comes of those choices. There are com­put­ers that can beat chess cham­pi­ons, but I ex­pect there are few, if any, com­put­ers with such ca­pa­bil­ity in the State Depart­ment and in the U.S. Capi­tol.

Those who pushed, wrote, and passed the Oba­macare leg­is­la­tion are prime ex­am­ples of peo­ple who were un­able or un­will­ing to think through the con­se­quences of their pro­pos­als — whose pre­dictable fail­ures were ob­vi­ous to the more thought­ful. Rarely do those who ad­vo­cate higher taxes think through and un­der­stand all of the cas­cad­ing ef­fects of tax in­creases. The Democrats threw away the ma­jori­ties they had eight years ago by ig­nor­ing the pre­dictable ef­fects of the poli­cies they pro­posed and put in place. For­mer Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid is a prime ex­am­ple of a politi­cian who was un­able to think be­yond Stage I. For in­stance, his short­sighted de­ci­sion to get rid of the fil­i­buster rule for con­fir­ma­tion of ap­pel­late judges and other high-level gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials has now come back to bite in a big way his suc­ces­sor, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who now seems in­tent to com­pound the er­ror by at­tempt­ing to fil­i­buster Judge Neil Gor­such.

His­to­ri­ans rightly crit­i­cize the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship and many of the gen­er­als in World War I. What is most fright­en­ing is that the cur­rent crop of world lead­ers, in­clud­ing many in the U.S. Congress, seem no wiser, and per­haps even less so, than those who brought the world to the un­speak­able mis­ery of the 20th cen­tury, start­ing with World War I.

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