Cognitive Dissonance: Guns versus Butter
Some psychologists talk about: Cognitive Dissonance. This occurs when the human mind is confronted with two competing and contradictory thoughts. For example, one thought is that we are under attack by the Islamic fascists. The other thought is that we are at peace. (Or, so it appears when one see the abundance we have and one sees a robust consumer economy.)
In part, this may explain the recent power shift in Congress from the Republicans (the party perceived as strong on national defense), to the Democrats (the party perceived by some as only concerned with holding together their coalition of: Big Labor, abortionists, environmentalists, civil-rights activists, gays, radical feminists, and illegal immigrants).
Faced with the competing thoughts of war versus peace, many swing voters sided with the Democrats while, at the same time, some conservatives, who were disappointed with the failure of Republican majorities in both Houses to do everything the conservatives wanted done, did not vote.
November’s Cognitive Dissonance can, with some justification, be laid at the feet of the Bush Administration’s approach to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks which was to tell Americans that we could have both guns and butter. -- an approach that did not serve us well during the Vietnam War.
In 1978, a Vietnam-veteran Ph.D. candidate submitted a doctoral dissertation entitled: War During Peace: The Paradox of Vietnam. The major premise of the dissertation was that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson engaged our then, largely conscripted, armed forces in a Vietnam War of Attrition rather than a Vietnam War of Annihilation. Moreover, they failed to put our nation, both mentally and physically, on an all-out war footing.
Historically, the United States fights Wars of Annihilation better than Wars of Attrition, with World War II being a prime example. Learning from Vietnam, we responded to Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait with a War of Annihilation. In 1991, Coalition Forces decimated Saddam’s ground forces to the point that the Sinistra Media screamed for Coalition Forces to stop the carnage along the “death road” leading out of Kuwait.
Following the 9/11 attacks, kicking the Taliban out of Afghanistan and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq were both done as Wars of Annihilation. Except, of course, for the families of those killed or wounded in both campaigns, the Coalition’s initial victories in Afghanistan and Iraq made it seem all too easy. So easy, it seemed to some that we could hold the Islamic fascists at bay without any real disruptions here at home.
Regrettably, after our magnificent All-Volunteer Force proved it could quickly win both conventional and unconventional Wars of Annihilation, President Bush repeated the Vietnam War mistakes of JFK and LBJ by not putting the nation on an all-out war footing. Other than airline screenings, the Home Front hasn’t been inconvenienced.
With perfect hindsight, we can see that Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Bush should have followed the example of President Roosevelt (FDR), who, during World War II, put all Americans on a war footing. Virtually all industrial and consumer goods -- from iron bars to candy bars -- were rationed. Almost all non-war-essential civilian travel was banned.
FDR’s restrictions forced virtually every man, woman and child on the Home Front to understand the gravity of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. FDR’s message was clear: Produce guns now and forget about butter – a message that created national unity like we had never seen before.
The mid-term elections suggest we have Cognitive Dissonance caused by an enemy far different than we faced during World War II. The Islamic fascists are not like Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan or even the Soviet Union – nation-states with names and addresses. They are everywhere, and nowhere. And, if their guns take the form of WMD, we won’t have any need for butter.
Maybe, somewhere, some doctoral candidate is writing: War During Peace: The Paradox of the War on Terror.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former research fellow at the U.S. Military History Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2006. William Hamilton.