Central View: Affairs through a looking glass
In his best-seller “Things That Matter,” Dr. Charles Krauthammer includes an essay entitled “The Mirror-Image Fallacy.” The former psychiatrist explains how some people look in the mirror and then assume the rest of the world thinks and acts the same as they do.
Some successful salespersons use “mirroring” to advantage by a subtle mimicking of the facial expressions and body gestures of their potential customers. Done artfully, the potential customer starts to feel warm and fuzzy as if he or she is conversing with himself or herself.
Recent studies of both Twitter and Facebook patrons reveal when people write about themselves — their favorite subject — dopamine flows to the brain’s pleasure center, giving the Tweeter or the Facebooker a pleasant feeling, like a shot of booze. Some over-achievers release dopamine simply by the accomplishment of their goals.
Sometimes, the mirror-image fallacy has disastrous effects in world affairs. Prior to WWI, when French defense planners looked into their mirror, they assumed the Germans had the same lack of confidence in their Reserve troops as the French did in theirs.
In 1914, the French and German active-duty armies were roughly equivalent. The French, looking at their stolen copy of Germany’s von Schlieffen Plan, decided the Plan’s manpower requirements were too great for the Germans to succeed unless the Germans used their Reserves as front-line troops — something the French would never do. Surprise! The Germans threw their Reserves into the Schlieffen effort, making the Plan eminently workable and the Germans would have won WWI in less than 40 days.
Just before the Germans attacked through Belgium in August, 1914, the Germans decided, if they were the French, that they would mass the French Army on the border with Alsace-Lorraine and execute French Plan 17 (they had a stolen copy) and try to recapture Alsace-Lorraine. Then, when the French forces were deep enough into Lorraine, the “center” of the German line would fall on the French from behind. Result: The reduced Schlieffen Plan forces were insufficient to overrun the newly-arrived British blocking force. The French, sensing the trap in Lorraine, turned toward the German “center” and survived. Both sides, having lost their chance for a speedy victory, dug down into trench warfare that lasted for four horrible years. American troops from the New World had to break the stalemate and rescue the Old World from mutual suicide. Sometimes, American foreign policy falls into the mirror-image trap. As Dr. Krauthammer relates: President Carter thought the Iranian Ayatollahs would enter into rational negotiations when the Ayatollahs simply wanted the Shah of Iran’s head mounted on a platter. That fallacy got our embassy staff imprisoned in Iran for 444 long days and shattered Carter’s chance for reelection, and maybe his mirror as well.
William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
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