Wednesday, April 18, 2007

the If Only fallacy

Aware that I'm an unreconstructed conservative, I'm making a point of reading what the unreconstructed Bolsheviks said about the events of 1989-1991. (For the most part, they got it as wrong as the RAND Corp thinkers did!) Among them I was pleased to find Alexander Cockburn, who used to be the pet leftie of the Wall Street Journal. He wrote a short piece for The Nation in September 1991, which ends with this pleasing tribute to his father:

'Discussing the pact between the Soviet Union and Germany in 1939, he wrote in his memoir Crossing the Line, "Nobody can judge whether an historical event ... was a catastrophe unless he is prepared to say at the same time what would have happened if that thing had not happened"'
How often do we see examples of what Claud Cockburn called 'the If Only fallacy'! If only Stalin had been cleverer in 1939 (or Hitler in 1940). If only Truman had lined up behind Uncle Ho in 1945. If only George Dubya hadn't invaded Iraq in 2003 ...

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