Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts. 

—Barbara Tuchman

Video

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The tale of the Trojan Horse might be apocryphal – no one knows – but it stands out as one of military history’s most famous cautionary tales about yielding to unexamined beliefs. The story goes that the Greeks, frustrated by years of waging an unsuccessful siege on the walled city of Troy, built a massive wooden horse, left it at the city gates as a parting “gift” to their putative victors, and pretended to sail home. Ignoring the naysayers (most famously, the prophet Cassandra and the priest Laocoön, both of whom warned their fellow Trojans that the gift was a trap), Troy’s leaders brought the horse inside the city walls. That night, thirty-odd soldiers who had been concealed inside crept out and opened the gates to the returned Greek army. The Greeks destroyed the city and slaughtered its citizens, thereby ending – and winning – the Trojan War.