With great solemnity, “Defense” Secretary Robert Gates imparted on West Point cadets this Friday a hard-earned pearl of newly discovered wisdom:

In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

In other words, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

Sounds like good advi… Wait,what? Not everyone knows this already? Inconceivable!

Any culturally literate person has seen The Princess Bride at least once in the last 24 years1 and certainly knows about the most famous classic blunder:

It must take being a politician or government official to have never heard of this before, or to forget it, or else to possess the hubris to think that they can make things turn out differently this time.

I’m reminded of another classic principle, this one pithily stated by Thomas Sowell:

The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

Here’s another one Gates is probably not familiar with:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. – George Santayana

[Cross-posted at The Libertarian Standard.]


  1. The novel by William Goldman was published over a decade earlier in 1973. But I imagine this bit of wisdom goes back much further. 

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About the Author

Geoffrey Allan Plauché Executive Editor

Geoffrey is an Aristotelian-Liberal political philosopher, an adjunct instructor for Buena Vista University, the founder and executive editor of Prometheus Unbound, and the webmaster of The Libertarian Standard. His work has appeared in Libertarian Papers, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, the Journal of Value Inquiry, and Transformers and Philosophy. He lives in Edgewood, KY with his wife and two children.

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