How does groupthink evolve in the wake of evolving politics? Many would like to think that there has been, at best, a gradual refinement of our collective political consciousness, of our consideration to the world with whom we are better connected than ever before. And yet, basic empathy continues to evade our conclusions, even when a presumed moral decency is claimed; sometimes, even Republicans, Democrats and the general public vote for ignorance in equal measure.
As each new sensationalistic utterance departs from the lips of the 45th president, there is a public emboldening of reason, of an informed public who seeks to dismantle any assumptions of reactionary prejudice. So it goes with a recent experiment and report by Stanford, made in efforts to contrast modern war publicity with that of World War II.
In the new issue of the peer-reviewed journal International Security is a research text by Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin A. Valentino titled “Revisiting Hiroshima In Iran.” Scott D. Sagan pursued this piece after reading the results of a recent poll about the Japan bombing:
“The poll shows that since its height in 1945 at 85%, public support for using the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is now [down to] 45%…You can’t really tell from that data whether the public’s changed their views on Nuclear weapons, or changed their views on Japan.”
By reframing the moral imperative of a nuclear attack on the more contemporaneous situation of America’s perceptions of Iran, Sagan and Valentino took a sample population and checked how supportive they would be of a targeted bombing. The results were disturbingly higher than modern retrospective reaction on 1945’s events:
“[In the study scenario,] Iran apparently violates the nuclear deal [aka the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA], and the marine corps sinks [an American] ship. The President calls for unconditional surrender, and after the initial fighting begins, we can: drop the bomb, or invade Tehran at a projected risk of 20,000 military casualties. The respondent is asked which of these options they prefer.”
In the study, American participants supported the choice of nuclear attack at 60%. There was also a few different controls, including one where conventional warfare was an option—essentially, bombing a populous city with non-nuclear armaments—and this option incurred a 67% approval response. Horrifying results to be sure.
There is an inclination to insist that, at the end of the day, this was just a sample group’s point of view. And yet, it was only late last month than the Senate voted 98-2 in favor of passing new sanctions against Russia, North Korea, and Iran. Two lone senators voted against this measure: Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul, the former making a special note of his refusal to support a motion which risks the American relationship and, more specifically, the nuclear deal with Iran.
This particular issue, and the JCPOA in specific, have curiously emerged as a bipartisan whipping post. For Republicans this would correspond with their continued attempts to eradicate as much of Obama’s legacy as possible, but they have now joined the Democrats as strange bedfellows. Motions like the one Sanders voted against appear to punish Russia, who the Dems are still scrutinizing for their alleged election meddling, but those same Dems need to be cautious in back-peddling this country’s remnant relationship with Iran.
The study by Sagan and Valentino illustrates how these confused political thought-lines in the Senate trickle down into the groupthink of the American public. Antagonizing Iran with these sanctions further energizes a xenophobia which recognizes the nation and, by extension, Iranian-Americans, as a frequent target.