Historic Analogies for Climate Change are Beguiling

It is just about as obvious that AGW [anthropogenic global warming] is not a serious problem as it was that the Nazis weren’t in 1936. Plenty of supposedly reasonable people had plenty of reasonable reasons to do nothing about it then, but today we just think they were stupid. Wasn’t it just obvious, weren’t the facts staring them in the face? But there was not really a shortage of people who saw WWII coming.

A commenter on the previous thread makes that argument here. But we also don’t need to go that far into the past for 2020 hindsight. We could use today’s occasion in Iraq to argue that a war which had nothing to do with 9/11 and sold with selective, hyped information to a fearful nation, is, on the flipside, a good a argument for skepticism. Let’s review:

The U.S. war in Iraq “” a conflict that killed more than 4,000 American troops, cost $800 billion and divided the nation “” officially ended with a ceremony held under tight security.

“To be sure, the cost was high “” in blood and treasure for the United States and also for the Iraqi people,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. “But those lives have not been lost in vain.”

So, knowing what we know today, was it worth it?

This rationalization from Fox News is a gem:

There may not have been weapons of mass destruction but for sure the U.S. military came of age in Iraq. It learned how to fight a counterinsurgency. It learned what it felt like to be perceived as an occupier. But most importantly nearly 1 million U.S. service members who passed through it and the Afghan theater became experts on the Middle East in all of its roiling complexity, making it impossible for Americans ever again to become truly isolationist.

Those U.S. forces learned how to take intelligence and hunt terrorists, skills that General Stanley McChrystal and the CIA perfected in Iraq, which undoubtedly were the basis for the skills and planning that allowed the U.S. military to execute with near perfect precision the killing of Usama Bin Laden and target and kill 99 percent of Al Qaeda’s top leaders worldwide. Those skills were honed and perfected in Iraq.

Never mind that the forces diverted to Iraq could have been used to nail Bin Laden much sooner while also helping to avoid the quagmire we find ourselves in today in Afghanistan. Otherwise, yeah, we learned why it’s not such a good idea to be an occupier in the Muslim world.

But getting back to the topic at hand, do these two pieces of history, Germany in 1936 and Iraq in 2003, hold lessons for us today, in how we are responding to climate change?

17 Responses to “Historic Analogies for Climate Change are Beguiling”

  1. harrywr2 says:

    It is too early to tell whether Iraq will have been worth it.
    If 10 years from now the Middle East is still dominated by jack boot dictators the answer will be no. But for now, Saddam is gone, Gadaffi is gone, Mubarack is gone.
    The Middle East has been a region held together by jack boot dictators for far too long, often with support from ‘well intentioned’ glorious leaders that value the ‘stability’ Jack Boot dictators offered.
    I would argue that Bin Laden and crew were created by US/Soviet affinity for Jack Boot Dictators.
    Killing Bin Laden didn’t kill the ‘root cause’.

  2. hunter says:

    The best historic analogies regarding AGW are those that include eugenics, tulipomania, chialism, Lysenkoism, etc.
    As to the Iraq part of this war, as a backer of GW Bush, I think it was on balance a mistake. Afghanistan is now slipping away, and Iraq is not very likely to succeed. Both due to diverting resources from Afghanistan- the taliban / Al Qaeda fell so quickly it was confused as a sign of their weakness. using the words “Afghanistan” and “easy” in the same sentance is always a mistake. Bin Laden, while worth killing, was apparently in a semi-retired mode, and was pretty clearly ineffective and crazy.


  3. Anteros says:


  4. Andrew Holland says:

    Good Question – and the answer is ‘Maybe’ – but we can only know after the fact.

    Maybe global warming today will really be like not rising to meet Germany in the 1930s. Certainly groups like CNAS, who use Churchillian references like ‘The Gathering Storm’ think so. 

    But – maybe global warming will be more like the threat of war with England in the 1840s over the Oregon Territory, or the threat of a Russian-English war in Central Asia during the ‘Great Game’ era. Wars that were widely predicted but never came to pass.

    Only history can make those judgements.

  5. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Is it relevant that the Nazis were hippie control-freaks with an idealised view of Nature?
    No. Can’t be. That’s the other …
    Sorry I spoke.

  6. BBD says:

    If there is a lesson from history here it is that we sometimes make bad decisions when mistaken sentiment trumps fact.

  7. stan says:

    This rendition of facts re: Iraq is so blindly partisan from an extreme left-wing perspective that one can only laugh at the provincialism that spawns it.

  8. Dean says:

    Keith – The fact that 1936 was used by supporters of the Iraq War to buttress their case demonstrates to me that there are so many lessons out there that people can choose which ones to “learn” as easy as they choose a blog or news channel to support their biases.
    In the end, we’ve just got that brain matter between our ears. People learn lessons reasonably well from their own experience, particularly from frequent experience. Beyond that, I don’t think it works.

  9. Alexander Harvey says:

    I really do not think that the 1936 analogy stands up very well.
    There are a number of points but of significance are that people concentrate on Chamberlain and neglect Baldwin who commenced rearmament in 1934 but importantly made other preparations to ensure the continuation of industrial capacity given the prospect of a bomber war.
    Some of the unpreparedness was illusory but believed at the time, the underdog situation going into the air defence combat over Britain in 1940 was partly bad intelligence regarding Luftwaffe operations. Their capacity to fight given an inability to advance was much less than could have been deduced from their numbers or their previous performance fighting a highly mobile war on the mainland of Europe. Although not realised by either side at that time the British RAF was well prepared to have won a war of attrition in the air. This was aided by being able to recover pilots and that production from the factory system, originally positioned by Baldwin, could make up the numbers of lost aircraft and equip squandrons with ready to go replacement fighters so numbers could be maintained whilst repairs were undertaken. Nevertheless the effort was extraordinary and throughout it was beleived that the RAF was seriously outnumbered and likely to lose. It was indeed technically outnumbered but only if the Luftwaffe could put up their force into the air and that was operationally increasingly impossible as they lacked spare planes, and crucially spare pilots and were unable to perform rotations.
    The popular post war story of the Battle of Britain was never a myth as it was believed true, but is increasingly being seen as an illusion produced by the fog of war.
    The war that Britain was woefully unprepared for was with Japan, which commenced later the same day but on a different date as the attack on Pearl Harbour.
    The situation with Chrchill is interesting, he was untainted by the Chamberlain-Hitler pact due to being out of office. Based on somewhat anecdotal evidence this was another part of the Baldwin plan from as early as 1935.
    Churchill had of course been a journalist and a correspondent from the Northwest Frontier, now the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, from there he commented on the Taleb for whom he had a particular disdain. The similarity to Taleban is not coincidental, The role of a war correspondent was rather more hands on in those days a correspondent for The Times was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military decoration for valour in the face of the enemy.
    I will say little about the war in Iraq other than remind people that the US air forces and the RAF had been engaged over Iraq since soon after the end of the Gulf War and not without using their fire-power or receiving anti-aircraft fire, and that the UN was in support of a sanctions regime which with the assistance of Hussein was resulting in intollerable levels of human suffering.

  10. hunter says:

    And what is more sentimental than using polar bear cubs, making movies like AIT, making cute videos like 10:10, holding really nice meetings worldwide to plan how to save the world, claiming that every year is the last year to save the planet, etc. etc. etc.?

  11. EdG says:

    Germany 1936? No. Iraq? Closer but no cigar. How about this one?

    In ca. 2006 the basic assumption, based on recent trends and the wisdom of experts, was that the price of US real estate could only go up. The best paid math whizzes in the world, working on Wall Street, created marvellous models based on this assumption and their bosses sold tons of apparently bulletproof mortgage backed securities and other derivratives and other creative paper across the global markets based on this consensus opinion. Almost all the Wall Streeters and almost everybody else never questioned it because it was working for them. And the real superdooper experts at the ratings agencies stamped them AAA for a fee.

    How did that turn out?

    On another tangent, why does anybody still believe anything Moody’s or S & P says now? Who are they working for now?

  12. hunter says:

    Don’t forget that their models had won the Nobel Prize, and that those super doper smart guys had all gone to the best schools and gotten lots and lots of education.

  13. Lewis Deane says:

    OT but I have to write this to a journalist who might mourn Christopher Hitchens passing:
    Here’s to the spirit of what you say (I’m bored of that accursed ‘climate change’, too, as you might have guessed!) and here’s a glass of ruby red and a quick draw on my roll up for, to Christopher Hitchens, a mensch if there ever was one, confused, often, contradictory but always thinking and with the cojanes to prove it. For him latterly, it was the frightening prospect of an (underwhelming) overwhelming of religious cant and fanaticism that might snatch, someday soon, the crust of civilization from our hand, the dark stench of its fellow travelers, its pickpockets, jackanapes, mountebanks and other ne’er do wells, its murderers, its assassins, that sometimes darkened his day, but only, precisely because he embraced the wonders of the enlightenment and this unsteady 300 year experiment in trying to think! To think ““ that was what Christopher tried to do and would ask us to do. I will miss his voice. He was a man.

  14. Lewis Deane says:

    “Don’t take security in the supposed consensus!” Talk about other things, tea trays and oyster kings. I lost, a long time ago, Anthony Burgess, a stalwart of the original Manchester Guardian, and, now, Christopher! What or who is left?

  15. Doug Allen says:

    Analogies with WWII and Iraq don’t work very well.  Perhaps a better analogy is the War on Drugs.  Drug addiction is a scourge and is real, just as AGW is real (CAGW- probably not).  In trying to solve a problem, I’ve always liked the medical phrase- “first, do no harm.”

    The war on drugs has been a good example of political fear mongering my entire life.  We all know the unintended consequences.

    CAGW might possibly turn out to be the problem that Hansen and Gore predict, but there’s very little evidence of that, especially these last 14 years.  Yes, we need to monitor climate and keep learning what are the climate forcings.  Instead, CAGW has become just one more example of political fear mongering with terrible unintended consequences.  One of them is the untold suffering and death, hundreds of thousands of fatalities by some estimates,  caused by using food for fuel which has raised corn and all grain prices.  Another terrible unintended consequence is the hyjacking of the traditional conservation movement- preserving and protecting fragile ecosystems and biodiversity- for the silver bullet mania of reducing CO2 emissions at all costs. Clear cutting tropical forests to plant a monoculture of palm oil for biofuel is the most egregious example.               

  16. Matt B says:

    @13 Lewis Deane,

    Agreed, the world is a poorer place today………RIP Christopher, you did your fair share………

  17. BBD says:

    You don’t know the difference in meaning between ‘sentiment’ and ‘sentimental’. Why am I not surprised?

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