Ignorant Armies: Sliding into War in Iraq


189 pages
ISBN 0-7710-2977-2
DDC 327.73056'09'0511





Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a professor of history at Laurentian University. He
is the author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable
Kingdom, Chile and the Nazis, and The Diplomacy of War: The Case of


Gwynne Dyer wrote this book in a mere three and a half weeks immediately
before George W. Bush launched his attack on Iraq. Dyer warned that such
an invasion would be more costly than the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait,
and he found it unnecessary and undesirable. Saddam Hussein could not
possibly have hidden any weapons of mass destruction from the United
Nations inspectors, who had been swarming over his country since 1991
and who would have continued to do so as long as he remained in control.
Hussein had lost the capacity to threaten his neighbours. He was not a
partner of al-Qaeda and had no responsibility for the events of
September 11, 2001. Iran and North Korea were much more likely than Iraq
to have weapons of mass destruction, and responsible authorities in
Washington and London knew all this. The Iraq War had a hidden agenda,
says Dyer—like the Spanish-American War of 1898 (it was allegedly
fought to liberate Cuba from Spain but was actually provoked in order to
grab naval bases in the Caribbean and the Pacific) and the Boer War of
1899–92 (the British went out of their way to seize someone else’s
gold). This is Dyer’s journalism at its best.

In Ignorant Armies, Dyer says that the second Bush administration
misled Americans by exploiting their irrational fears. He goes on to
point out that the death toll on September 11 “was on the same order
as the monthly death toll from traffic accidents in the United
States.” Americans are accustomed to living dangerously, with a murder
rate many times that of other advanced societies and next to no social
safety net. Nevertheless, “it’s not uncommon these days in the
United States to meet heavy smokers who worry about terrorism.”

The book is dated—filled with plausible horrors about the forthcoming
war, many of which have not materialized, at least not as of the writing
of this review. Also, Dyer’s language can be less than perfect.
Despite the horrors of September 11 and the 2002 Bali bombing of
Australians, Dyer insists, “[m]odern terrorism is entirely a media
phenomenon.” (The 2004 Madrid bombing had not yet happened.) Ignorant
Armies will, however, interest historians who will want to know what
informed people thought on the eve of war.


Dyer, Gwynne., “Ignorant Armies: Sliding into War in Iraq,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17982.