Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Overreacting to 9/11

David Bell comes out with this bit of editorial relativism that is sounding quite familiar in its arguments against the War or Terror. Once again a liberal tells us we overreacted. I'll park this dolt in the same bin with those saying it was our fault and those that say we deserved it.

He starts his argument by comparing 9/11 to the Nazi invasions of the Soviet Union.
IMAGINE THAT on 9/11, six hours after the assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon, terrorists had carried out a second wave of attacks on the United States, taking an additional 3,000 lives. Imagine that six hours after that, there had been yet another wave. Now imagine that the attacks had continued, every six hours, for another four years, until nearly 20 million Americans were dead. This is roughly what the Soviet Union suffered during World War II, and contemplating these numbers may help put in perspective what the United States has so far experienced during the war against terrorism.

It also raises several questions. Has the American reaction to the attacks in fact been a massive overreaction? Is the widespread belief that 9/11 plunged us into one of the deadliest struggles of our time simply wrong? If we did overreact, why did we do so? Does history provide any insight?
There you are. Since only ~3000 died during the 9/11 attacks, that didn't justify our reaction. Which makes one wonder how many would justify a reaction. Or would Bell have felt differently if it had been one of his family or in his local city that had faced the attack?

For me it really comes down to, why should the US tolerate any external attacks at all? Do we need a bench mark for a number of deaths before we can react? He doesn't address that point at all, but merely points to other historians who indicate that the US has a track record of overreacting.
Yet a great many Americans, particularly on the right, have failed to make this distinction. For them, the "Islamo-fascist" enemy has inherited not just Adolf Hitler's implacable hatreds but his capacity to destroy. The conservative author Norman Podhoretz has gone so far as to say that we are fighting World War IV (No. III being the Cold War).

But it is no disrespect to the victims of 9/11, or to the men and women of our armed forces, to say that, by the standards of past wars, the war against terrorism has so far inflicted a very small human cost on the United States. As an instance of mass murder, the attacks were unspeakable, but they still pale in comparison with any number of military assaults on civilian targets of the recent past, from Hiroshima on down.
So the attacks on Japan were mass murder? I seem to recall the US was the one attacked, repeatedly, and they were trying to win a war. I know that winning is a novel concept for those like Bell, since obviously a big hug and a little understanding will stop an aggressor from cutting your throat. Bell also misses that the ability to wage war has changed dramatically and our own reaction to the war on terror hasn't had any fire bombings or nuclear attacks. Precision weapons do most of our killing when needed. Unfortunately, the terrorists like using attacks that maximize damage rather than minimize. A profound difference with how the US has evolved to fight.
Even if one counts our dead in Iraq and Afghanistan as casualties of the war against terrorism, which brings us to about 6,500, we should remember that roughly the same number of Americans die every two months in automobile accidents.
Oh yes, accidents are a good comparison when placing perspective on murders performed with intent. I suppose we can stop arresting murderers in this country because the death toll each year is less than the number of accidental deaths. What logic is there with that? Murderers are intentionally taking your life, and accident is a mishap in life. We at least try to moderate the chances with accidents with seat belts or airbags. Should we not try to moderate the threats from terrorism?
Of course, the 9/11 attacks also conjured up the possibility of far deadlier attacks to come. But then, we were hardly ignorant of these threats before, as a glance at just about any thriller from the 1990s will testify. And despite the even more nightmarish fantasies of the post-9/11 era (e.g. the TV show "24's" nuclear attack on Los Angeles), Islamist terrorists have not come close to deploying weapons other than knives, guns and conventional explosives. A war it may be, but does it really deserve comparison to World War II and its 50 million dead? Not every adversary is an apocalyptic threat.
Apparently Bell's parents didn't do much to teach him what most American parents teach their children. Television drama is "make believe." It isn't reality. Islamic terrorists and drug lords on TV aren't real. The reality is generally much worse, and the good guy generally isn't there to save your pathetic ass. If his contention had any viability the US congress would be reacting to TV threats all the time. Oh, wait, they do. Searching all cargo containers for nuclear weapons is a perfect example. Funny that the terrorists used an attack method that wasn't on TV anywhere.

A further problem with that contention is that WMDs have become more prevalent in the world and the chances that they will be deployed in an attack in the US has increased with the increase in the number of Islamic terrorists. Add a threat and the opportunity to deliver and the risks in life change. But I'm certain Bell thinks we must be overreacting in our reactions to defending ourselves inside the country as well. He doesn't say it, but if he sticks to his logic about our overreaction with our offensive capabilities, then this too must be a logical conclusion.

As to "apocalyptic" threats, do we require a threat to be apocalyptic before we can react to it? Doesn't the US have some responsibility to all of it's citizens to provide some protection? You'd think by the screeching of the liberals that such a thing was a requirement when it comes to natural disasters. Wouldn't you think that would also apply to threats from international terrorism?
So why has there been such an overreaction? Unfortunately, the commentators who detect one have generally explained it in a tired, predictably ideological way: calling the United States a uniquely paranoid aggressor that always overreacts to provocation.

In a recent book, for instance, political scientist John Mueller evaluated the threat that terrorists pose to the United States and convincingly concluded that it has been, to quote his title, "Overblown." But he undercut his own argument by adding that the United States has overreacted to every threat in its recent history, including even Pearl Harbor (rather than trying to defeat Japan, he argued, we should have tried containment!).

Seeing international conflict in apocalyptic terms — viewing every threat as existential — is hardly a uniquely American habit. To a certain degree, it is a universal human one. But it is also, more specifically, a Western one, which paradoxically has its origins in one of the most optimistic periods of human history: the 18th century Enlightenment.
Mueller is another fool. So let's do a little thought test. What would the Japanese have done if the US had not reacted with military force to the attack on Pearl Harbor? Would he say that they would have left us alone or would he postulate that they would have increased their empire building against the US mainland? I'm going to guess he is on the side of the Japanese leaving us alone. And unicorns and rainbows would be a daily reality in his little world.

I'd also state that seeing world conflict as apocalyptic is overstating the facts. No doubt the politicos state it that way in most discussions, but for people in the real world it isn't so. The difference is, who wants to risk dieing because no one bothered to take simple steps to stop the wolf at the door? And if you're the one being killed, defining your death as apocalyptic has its justifications. It does indeed end your world.
During the hopeful early years of the 20th century, journalist Norman Angell's huge bestseller, "The Great Illusion," argued that wars had become too expensive to fight. Then came the unspeakable horrors of World War I. And the end of the Cold War, which seemed to promise the worldwide triumph of peace and democracy in a more stable unipolar world, has been followed by the wars in the Balkans, the Persian Gulf War and the present global upheaval. In each of these conflicts, the United States has justified the use of force by labeling its foe a new Hitler, not only in evil intentions but in potential capacity.
What should the label an extreme threat, Sister Theresa? Belittling the threat in the Middle-East is also surprisingly limited in understanding of what it could develop into. And why isn't the comparison of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism to the early actions of Hitler's Nazi Germany appropriate? Shouldn't the US view aggression by small factions and react to it as a matter of self-preservation? By Bell's standard I'd guess that WWII allies going to war with Germany over the actions in Czechoslovakia and Poland were unjustified.
Yet as the comparison with the Soviet experience should remind us, the war against terrorism has not yet been much of a war at all, let alone a war to end all wars. It is a messy, difficult, long-term struggle against exceptionally dangerous criminals who actually like nothing better than being put on the same level of historical importance as Hitler — can you imagine a better recruiting tool? To fight them effectively, we need coolness, resolve and stamina. But we also need to overcome long habit and remind ourselves that not every enemy is in fact a threat to our existence.
Criminals. Ah yes, back to the argument that reaction to the terrorists is merely a police activity. Let's ignore the state sponsorship or the devastating effects of some of their abilities. The US is overreacting because it chooses to try and protect the citizenry by preemptive action. Of course, the police analogy appears to be exactly where most liberals seem to stand on any conflict that threatens the US. Better to have someone there to document the murder and send for the cleaning crew rather than take action to prevent the murder at the start.

I'm also trying to figure out this "long habit" bit. The US has essentially always taken the first major blow before reacting. Sorry, but it is profoundly stupid to contend that reacting to the first attack with resolve is overreaction. In a fight you don't wait till the guy clubs you to the ground and is kicking your gut out before you react. You react to prevent getting damaged, either by stepping back or striking back quickly before the attacker can get an advantage. These are realities of survival.

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