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Rationality and Misreadings of History

Mark Adomanis refutes Lee Smith’s weak argument that the Iranian regime is irrational and suicidal because they used human wave attacks in the Iran-Iraq war:

Smith seems to make the (very common) mistake of assuming that “rational” means “good” or “agreeable.” If your opponent is more technologically sophisticated than you but you greatly outnumber them (as Iran outnumbered Iraq and the Soviet Union outnumbered Nazi Germany), and have an essentially inexhaustible quantity of poorly educated, poorly trained, and poorly armed young men, it is perfectly rational to use this fact to your advantage. The goal of a war is not to win pretty, but to win.

This shouldn’t be hard to understand. There is another flaw in Smith’s argument that Adomanis doesn’t address directly, and this is that the Iranians were fighting an enemy that had invaded their country. A bloody fight to expel an invading force tells us that the regime and people in Iran made enormous sacrifices to repel aggression. It does not tell us that the regime is bent on starting a conflict that would lead to their annihilation.

Adomanis notes that Smith doesn’t seem to know anything about Soviet history, and to that I would add that Smith’s classical history is also quite shaky. Smith wrote:

No one thinks that the rulers of Athens were irrational, but by the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War, their actions had effectively cashiered Athenian democracy.

Er, no, not really. There was a brief Spartan imposition of an oligarchy after the Athenian surrender, but Athenian democracy was restored in 403 after Athenian exiles fought to depose the Thirty and Sparta did not intervene to stop this. Athenian democracy continued to function very much as it had before and during the war, and it survived more or less intact until the Macedonians defeated Athens in 322. It was its empire that Athens lost after the Peloponnesian War, not its democracy.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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