Thomas Sowell: Iraq is the latest in a series of catastrophes growing out of diversity

Roundup: Historians' Take

Iraq is not the first war with ugly surprises and bloody setbacks. Even World War II, idealized in retrospect as it never was at the time -- the war of "the greatest generation" -- had a long series of disasters for Americans before victory was finally achieved.

The war began for Americans with the disaster at Pearl Harbor, followed by the tragic horror of the Bataan death march, the debacle at the Kasserine Pass and, even on the eve of victory, being caught completely by surprise by a devastating German counterattack that almost succeeded at the Battle of the Bulge.

Other wars -- our own and other nations' -- have likewise been full of nasty surprises and mistakes that led to bloodbaths. Nevertheless, the Iraq war has some special lessons for our time, lessons that both the left and the right need to acknowledge, whether or not they will.

What is it that has made Iraq so hard to pacify, even after a swift and decisive military victory? In one word: diversity.

That word has become a sacred mantra, endlessly repeated for years on end, without a speck of evidence being asked for or given to verify the wonderful benefits it is assumed to produce.

Worse yet, Iraq is only the latest in a long series of catastrophes growing out of diversity. These include "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans, genocide in Rwanda and the Sudan, the million lives destroyed in intercommunal violence when India became independent in 1947 and the even larger number of Armenians slaughtered by Turks during World War I.

Despite much gushing about how we should "celebrate diversity," America's great achievement has not been in having diversity but in taming its dangers that have run amok in many other countries. Americans have by no means escaped diversity's oppressions and violence, but we have reined them in.

Another concept whose bitter falsity has been painfully revealed in Iraq is "nation-building." People are not building blocks, however much some may flatter themselves that they can arrange their fellow human beings' lives the way you can arrange pieces on a chess board.

The biggest and most fatuous example of nation-building occurred right after World War I, when the allied victors dismembered the Habsburg Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Woodrow Wilson assigned a young Walter Lippman to sit down with maps and population statistics and start drawing lines that would define new nations.

Iraq is one of those new nations. Like other artificial creations in the Balkans, Africa and elsewhere, it has never had the cohesion of nations that evolved over the centuries out of the experiences of peoples who worked out their own modi vivendi in one way or another....

However we got into Iraq, we cannot undo history -- even recent history -- by simply pulling out and leaving events to take their course in that strife-torn country. Whether or not we "stay the course," terrorists are certainly going to stay the course in Iraq and around the world....

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