Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 12:53 | SYDNEY
Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 12:53 | SYDNEY

Do bike helmets explain the Iraq war?


Sam Roggeveen


19 June 2008 16:35

This Washington Post article (which I found via the incomparable Arts & Letters Daily) is titled 'Taking more risks because you feel safe'. Its theme is the paradoxical effects that safety measures can have on human behaviour — for instance, bath safety seats can make parents less attentive when bathing their kids; and bike helmets can entice cyclists to take more risks and drivers to be less prudent around them.

The article doesn't touch on international politics, but I can't help feeling there's an Iraq war metaphor in there somewhere. Some on the right claimed that the US took a holiday from history in the 90s, and was shaken out of its slumber and wrenched back into the harsh world of geopolitics by the 9/11 attacks. But maybe the opposite is true. After the collapse of communism, the US became so apathetic about the prospect of inter-state war and so confident of its global military supremacy that it felt able to take the risk of a war of choice against Iraq.

By this reading, the US didn't lash out against Iraq because it felt vulnerable, but because, in geopolitical terms, it was invulnerable. The 9/11 attacks themselves, though a severe psychological shock, did nothing to change that.