“Ignorance creates fear and fear is the enemy of peace”


It is said that knowledge is power. Conversely ignorance results in weakness turning people into little more than intellectual sheep. When one is ignorant, one is more likely to fall for false or otherwise unsound arguments proposed by those who would desire to shape opinion towards a predetermined conclusion. This is buoyed by the natural human tendencies of defensiveness and neophobia (fear of the unknown), both of which can be easily taken to excess. Ignorance creates massive unknowns and there is no lack of people who would desire to mold this ignorance into fear. Once this cycle has begun reversing it is near impossible. Fear inevitably leads to action. Like those of a cornered rat these actions are often fundamentally reactionary and involve the shattering of any illusions of peace and civility in a society. As will be demonstrated in the essay this pattern can cripple anything from individuals to great powers whose effects are far from trivial. This pattern was laid to bear in military and geopolitical outcomes, namely the American invasion of Iraq and third Punic war, as well as on the societal level as was the case in Nazi Germany’s persecution of the Jews and the segregation of the American south.

“Of course the people don't want war. But the people can be brought to the bidding of their leader. All you have to do is tell them they're being attacked and denounce the pacifists for somehow a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country” That was stated by Herman Goering long before the war in Iraq but it applies to that conflict perhaps even more than it did to conflicts of his time. This theory of conflict seems to perfectly attuned to the realities of the Iraq war. Its sole flaw is that it ignores the prerequisite for this situation, which is in my opinion the ignorance of the masses which makes them highly susceptible to deception. Initially it appears that the reasoning behind the invasion of Iraq was that members of US intelligence and defense agencies were misled by a handful of informants into the belief that there were WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) located in Iraq which would be against the regulations outlined in non-proliferation treaties. The intelligence failures that lead to the Iraq war started in November of 1999, when an Iraqi defector arrived in Munich, Germany seeking asylum. There he was interview by German intelligence agents where he reportedly discussed information pertaining to weapons of mass destruction being manufactured in Iraq. The trouble was that the information from this singular source was effectively the only information taken into consideration in deciding the fate of Iraq and it’s (as of 2001) 24 million people. The government of the United States elected to ignore a landslide of evidence that contradicted his statements creating for themselves a willful ignorance of the situation’s reality. This ignorance allowed for the fantasy of WMD’s being present in Iraq not solely to gain a foothold but to become a pervasive view among members of the political elite in the administration at the time. The catch was that these WMDs supposedly located in Iraq were nonexistent and this shred of evidence could not conceivably be enough to justify a war, or could it? It so happens that in the United States there are two major cohorts which must both be convinced in order to begin a war. The first consists of the “movers and shakers” of the society. This group consists of business interests and government officials, both these groups had significant interest in launching an invasion or Iraq. The second consists of the majority of the populous who are unable to participate in the ‘real politic’ of the elite. Initially it would seem that convincing a nation to buy into what amounted to a fantasy would be a fairly difficult undertaking, but this task is in actuality far less intimidating than it might initially appear. Naturally when the elite proposed their war they cloaked it in a veil of Patriotism, but moreover fueled it by fanning the flames of the fears of the American people. The administration at the time made claims that the regime of Saddam Hussein was sympathetic to the cause held by terrorists and that this would be to the detriment of the United States. Despite the lack of underlying facts to support their arguments the American people were vulnerable to their pleas due to their ignorance of the facts. The American people were unaware of the dynamics of Iraqi politics and as a result the idea that Saddam was both hoarding WMDs and also had terrorist sympathies was highly palatable to them. This ignorance in short allowed them to be easily manipulated into fear, as their only possible defense mechanism against the manipulation of the elite would have been knowledge contrary to that they were presented with. The result of this fear, the eventual invasion or Iraq, is an obvious obstruction to peace and is in totality reminiscent of the words of Lester Pearson that, “Ignorance creates fear and fear is the enemy of the peace”.

This trend was even present thousands of years preceding the war in Iraq, perhaps one of the most famous and most ancient instances in which this pattern can be found was in the lead up to the third Punic War.  Similar to as in Iraq the third Punic war was characterised by members of the Elite (the Patrician and Equestrian classes) of a power (Rome in this case) selectively using false or only partially true information to take advantage of the masses ( Plebeians) to advance a political cause. In this case it was to advance the cause of the conquest of Carthage and incorporation of that state fully into the Roman Empire. The third Punic war was set in the wake of the downfall of the once great Carthaginian Empire. The empire which had at one time had a near monopoly of control on the Mediterranean had been reduced in the first two Punic Wars to little more than a city state and was continually weakened by the Roman prohibition against the creation of a Carthaginian military as well as the coercion of Carthage into paying war reparations. For this reason Carthage could not reasonably be able to exert any force in an offensive war against Rome. However Roman greed could not be tempered by mere assurance of non-aggression and at a currently unknown date it is held that Cato the Elder gave a speech in which the outlined that despite the near obliteration of the Carthaginian Empire that Carthage,  now only a small city state and a Roman vassal to boot, would eternally remain a threat and needed to be destroyed. His reasons for as to why are to a great extent dubious but regardless he was evidently able to convince the Roman people of his thesis on the dangers of Carthage. The real motivation for the invasion was likely more economic. A few year previous to the invasion Carthaginians had been able to pay off the war debt to the Romans that had crippled them. This ability to pay their reparations presented an image of prosperity to Roman patricians giving them an incentive to invade so as to bring prosperity to Rome and more importantly to advance their personal political clout. Despite the vast sum of information contradictory to Cato’s hawkishness on Carthage due to the lack of knowledge of the plebeians as to the situations reality they easily fell victim to his doctrine and gave way to fear of Carthage. With this dynamic in play it is not surprising that when there was a border dispute between Carthage and the Roman ally of Numida the Romans were more than happy to plunge themselves into the conflict in favour of the Numidians. The Romans therefore laid siege to Carthage for no less than three years before it finally fell victim to the Roman legions and posthumously the dream of Cato the Elder (who died soon before the initiation of the war) was fulfilled and furthermore Carthage was destroyed. This example is clearly demonstrative of ignorance birthing violence

This principle is not solely evident in the theater of war and can be demonstrated with great frequency in the treatment of minority groups in close to every society. Perhaps the most striking example of ignorance leading to fear would be that of the holocaust. The holocaust is notable in part due to it sheer scale with a body count dwarfing that of other such events.  This paragraph is not however an analysis of the events that comprise the holocaust but rather an examination of the lead up to the event and its causes as these are highly pertinent to the thesis. The roots of the genocide can once more be traced to a select group of interests manipulating the public in order to fulfillment fear and resentment towards the Jewish community starting in Germany but eventually spreading to incorporate much of Europe. The ideology of anti semitism was multi-pronged, but perhaps the most prominent was the idea that the problems of Germany at the time were the result of the machinations of Jewish financiers and that moreover the Jewish population was worsening the economic crisis taking place at the time. This was in effect untrue, while financiers of Jewish origin did participate in the economic trends that led to the great depression they did not do so to the exclusion of other ethnic groups, and were merely one group of participants among many. in spite of these facts the myth that Jews were solely responsible for the poor economic conditions of Germany at the time was highly pervasive and the idea was spread by members of the Nazi regime notably Hitler. The reason this idea was so alluring to many was once more as a result of the ignorance of the German people to the realities of the time. Furthermore the ignorance of the Germans was not even completely wilful as the Nazi regime heavily censored all information that sought to challenge the fictions created in the minds of Nazi officials. This policy of censorship perpetuated the complacency, and just as often enthusiasm of the German people for the genocide. The fear created by this situation did not climax here however, as the forced ghettoization of Jewish community meant that the people of Nazi Germany were further isolated from Jewish people and as they did not interact with Jews any longer the ability to craft the idea of “the Jew” as having certain characteristics and fitting a sort of mold of what the people of the time believed Jews to be was exacerbated and therefore the racist ideas of the Nazi’s only became more poignant. The end of the peace that was represented by the Holocaust is self-explanatory.  This course of events is strikingly reminiscent of the quote by Lester Pearson that “Ignorance creates fear and fear is the enemy of the peace”.

Even after the conclusion of the Holocaust in the post war era the this dynamic of ignorance birthing fear and destroying any semblance of peace was persistent as evidenced by the phenomenon of racial segregation in the United States as this phenomenon was both the result of decisions made out of ignorance and which by its very nature created institutions which proceeded to only lessen the level of understanding that could be attained by the populous. Segregation was a phenomenon borne out of ignorance of the potential of those in the United States of African descent and a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of African American culture. Segregation was justified by the idea that African Americans were somehow lesser than whites and that their blood was “impure” relative to that of the whites and that they therefore had to be placed into an inferior position to whites and furthermore kept away from whites so as to maintain the racial purity of the white community. The system could not have existed had the people who perpetrated it had exposure to members of the African American race. This is the case because if they had been able to frequently meet with African Americans on equal footing it is likely they would have understood that fundamentally the chasm between African Americans and Whites was not as large or as intrinsic as the society believed. As a result of the fact that members of the White community never came into contact with the race against which they discriminated it was easy to create the idea that they were inferior to whites as there was no opportunity for this view to be corrected. In segregation Americans created for themselves a false reality in which they could project unto African Americans whatever fictions they desired, they in a sense created a vacuum of information on African Americans which their imagination could fill. Moreover the concept of the subhuman and intellectually disadvantaged “negro” was supposedly demonstrated by the circumstances of African Americans being less economically prosperous than whites. These circumstances were ironically not the result of a reality of African American inferiority, but rather the result of institutions build to suppress their social and economic potential. This suppression of African American potential played into the narrative of white superiority.  The idea of African American inferiority was two pronged however the first being the idea of biological inferiority of African Americans and the second being that of the danger they posed to civil society. There was a widely held belief at the time that if African Americans were afforded freedom they would behave in a prehumen and barbaric manner with the most widely held fear being the idea that if African Americans were freed from segregation they would engage in the rape of  white women and otherwise engage in criminality. The evidence for this was lacking but this belief was held by a significant portion of the population. This dichotomy of an inferiority complex combined with the fear of blacks were kept in place by the isolation of African Americans from the community (in effect an ignorance of blacks) and hence allowed for these false beliefs to be  maintained for a significant time. This sociological phenomenon resulted in a degree of violence such as race riots and the famed lynchings which continued till the 1960’s. It is telling that the death of segregation was in part spawned by the ability of people in the white community to become exposed to the struggle of blacks and the wastefulness of segregation through the mediums of television and increased news consumption. This entire time period of segregation seems to be perfectly demonstrative of how ignorance can lead to negative outcomes.

Based on the evidence provided it is clearly demonstrated that “ignorance creates fear and fear is the enemy of peace”, as was stated by Lester. B. Pearson. This is clearly expressed by the unnecessary war in Iraq, by the excess of the Roman state in launching the third Punic war, and also by the motivation for segregation and the holocaust. If anything is taken from this essay it is that this pattern is not one that should easily dismissed as a thing of the past. It is the folly of each generation to assume that their nature is fundamentally altered from that of their predecessors, and in often considering themselves more virtuous, intelligent, humanitarian or in any other way superior to their ancestors they seek to engage again in a sort of willful ignorance of their vices and their vulnerabilities to the same machiavellian tactics employed against persons in the past. It was said by Virginia Wolf that “sometime about December of 1910 human nature changed”, this notion was not true then and similarly a notion that in 1914, or 2017 or any year for that matter that human nature could change and make us immune to the faults of our forbearers, namely as it applies to this essay, their ignorance and naivety, is not simply false but ironically is in itself a naive idea to hold.  As indicated by the vast the hordes of proto nationalists falling victim to the same tricks that were forever used against the populous to foment hatred and advance agendas stand as a living testament to this fact. It was stated that to be manipulated was to, “attain another person's agenda believing it is your own”. Not at all different is the fact that in assuming ourselves invulnerable to ignorance we in fact make fools not of our ancestors but of ourselves. For this reason one holds a duty not just to oneself but to our society at large to remain forever vigilant against the eternally present prospect of this phenomenon repeating itself. If we do not remain aware of the idea that this dichotomy outlined by Pearson is likely to end in the near future, or for that matter at any time at all, is simply wishful thinking.


  1. I really like this article and all the comparisons in it. Nice job.


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