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Roll over, Willie Ockham

Cas Dunlap

Once upon a time there was a man in England named William of Ockham – “Willie” to his friends. He thought that science offered a lot of convoluted explanations for stuff and that’s why things had gotten all out of hand in the world of science.

One day while shaving (maybe), he figured that to correct the situation, problems should always be explained by the simplest solution possible. Because he was shaving, he called his idea Occam’s Razor – maybe also because Occam is simpler than Ockham.

Well, Willie’s idea caught on and it served man (generically speaking) very well in his search for knowledge until a man named George W. Bush was elected president of the United States and ended up in a war. At that point, various elements of our country abandoned Occam’s Razor for their own purposes.



“So what?” you say?

So this. As it did in the 14th century, embarking on convoluted explanations at the expense of a relative simple solution leads to error. And errors about important stuff can be real dangerous.



In late 2002 and early 2003, world intelligence services, including our own CIA, decided that Iraq had developed weapons of mass destruction. As evidence, they offered pictures of missile-like objects and portable chemical production vans, past use of these weapons by Saddam Hussein, eyewitness accounts by highly placed Iraqi citizens, and the fact that Saddam had been something less than forthcoming about letting weapons inspectors look where they thought the weapons might be.

Furthermore, based on Saddam’s past behavior, it seemed reasonable that he would use these weapons at his earliest opportunity. All of this information was presented to both the United Nations and the Congress of the United States.

This was especially compelling in that some intelligence indicated that Iraq was a haven for our good friends, Al Quaeda.



The United Nations, no doubt with the purest of motives (such as we’re gettin’ oil from the Iraqis, they owe us lots of money, we simply hate America, or, right or wrong, they’re our Arab brothers) decided that the evidence presented was fallacious. Neither the U.S. Congress nor those without vested interests in the Hussein government had such delusions.

We went to war to avoid being attacked by Iraq, or their client groups, in the very near future. However, all those waskelly ol’ WMDs have not to date been located.

This did not lead to the straightforward conclusion that Saddam had hidden them, moved them across the border to the land of those American-loving Iranians or Syrians, destroyed them, or we just made a mistake. (I would say bad mistake, but it’s debatable whether doing the right thing based on a misconception is fundamentally bad.)

It led to the strange conclusion that George W. Bush, our president, had lied to the American people just to go to war with the Iraqis.

And why would he do this? Well that’s a lot less clear.

One explanation was that he was gettin’ even for the attempted assassination of his father by the Iraqis. Another was that he was just finishing up some family business.

A third was he wanted Iraqi oil. A fourth was that somehow a victory over the gentle Iraqis would profit American big business, allegedly great friends of our president. And then there was the most peculiar explanation that went along the lines of “Yeah? Well why didn’t we go to war with North Korea?”

Of course, these explanations must be balanced against the foreseeable facts that many American lives would be lost in the war, that innocent Iraqi lives would be lost in the war, that billions would be spent to bring about a military victory, that more billions would be spent in restabilizating Iraq, that Iraq would be given back to the Iraqi people, sans Saddam and the Bathists, that old “friends” would think we were bad people, that thousands of people, who apparently believe that if you just ignore evil, it will go away and leave you alone, would say bad things about us, that all the other fun Middle Eastern folks would think this was a wonderful excuse to declare Jihad against The Great Satan (or had they done that already?), and that the U.N., which always has the best interests of the United States at heart, wouldn’t speak to us anymore.

Considering these things in the light of ol’ Willie’s idea, a person’s just got to wonder what’s really going on here. Could it be that this is an election year? Surely no group of right thinkin’ Americans would form a virtual fifth column just to win an election. Or not.


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