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1/29/2007
9/11: JUST A REAL BAD DAY
CATEGORY: War on Terror

I pity David Bell. And, in a way, I envy him. To be so oblivious to the threat posed by organizations like al-Qaeda and the ever burgeoning list of imitators and wannabes involved in international terrorism takes a special sort of myopia, a blissful blindness that lays a blanket of serenity over those who are arrogant enough or delusional enough to indulge in such fantasies.

Bell’s column in today’s Los Angeles Times raises an interesting point: Is the threat of terrorism an existential one? But answering in the negative, Bell proves himself shortsighted, shallow, and in the end, dead wrong.

The provocative headline of his piece – “Was 9/11 Really that Bad?” - is not very original. Several eminent historians have already tackled the subject and with far more depth and intelligence than Bell devoted to this regurgitation of leftist cant about the War on Terror.

First, let’s set up a great big strawman, shall we?

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?

Certainly, if we look at nothing but our enemies’ objectives, it is hard to see any indication of an overreaction. The people who attacked us in 2001 are indeed hate-filled fanatics who would like nothing better than to destroy this country. But desire is not the same thing as capacity, and although Islamist extremists can certainly do huge amounts of harm around the world, it is quite different to suggest that they can threaten the existence of the United States.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the old “20 million dead Soviets can’t be wrong” meme coming from the left. I actually sort of missed it. When last we left those 20 million dead Soviets, they were being used to assure us that the Russians would never attack America or Western Europe or anybody for that matter because no country suffered more as a result of war. This was about the time that Andropov was trying to convince himself that a nuclear first strike on America was necessary because Reagan was a nut. And we heard the meme repeated ad naseum all during the Soviet’s campaign to split the Europeans from the United States by threatening all sorts of nasty consequences if NATO deployed Pershing II missiles.

The Soviet Union lost 20 million people in World War II because they chose to help Adolf Hitler start the war in the first place. Stalin made a conscious decision (and an immoral secret protocol with Germany that partitioned Poland and divided Europe into “spheres of influence”) to abandon their treaty obligations to France and allow Hitler a free hand in western Europe.

Now we have 20 million dead Soviets being used to tell us that we haven’t suffered enough in the War on Terror to justify our reaction, that indeed, we don’t know what real suffering is. Bell is trying to tell us that the 20 million lost in Stalin’s war of choice should be, if not a benchmark, then certainly a guide to how we should be approaching terrorism. Evidently, the measly 3,000 Americans lost on 9/11 just doesn’t cut it among the “proportional response” crowd.

I could be flippant and ask the Professor to wait a few years until the nightmare of terrorists armed with nuclear and biological weapons becomes a reality but that’s the point of our “overreaction” isn’t it? I guarantee it will be easy for the Bell’s of the world to say, after the first nuke destroys an American city, that the terrorists are not an existential threat, that in the grand scheme of things, what’s one little city when compared to getting the rest of the world upset with us and going into places like Iraq to bust up governments who aid and abet people who want to kill as many of us as possible – something the professor readily acknowledges?

Certainly, if we look at nothing but our enemies’ objectives, it is hard to see any indication of an overreaction. The people who attacked us in 2001 are indeed hate-filled fanatics who would like nothing better than to destroy this country. But desire is not the same thing as capacity, and although Islamist extremists can certainly do huge amounts of harm around the world, it is quite different to suggest that they can threaten the existence of the United States.

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.

The “standards of past wars” is an idiotic yardstick to use. What possible “standard” can we point to from any war in our past that would bear any resemblance whatsoever to our situation today? We are fighting extra-state actors who flit from continent to continent, aided and abetted by nations who themselves have sworn to destroy us. What in our past has prepared us to deal with this scenario?

And to say that the terrorists don’t have the capacity to destroy us may be correct – today. But any number of proliferation experts, academics, military and intelligence officials have informed us that it is not a question of if we are going to be hit by a nuclear attack but when. And the time frame most often given is sometime in the next decade.

Would we be “overreacting” if we took the action we are taking now – including the invasion of Iraq – after a couple of our cities are destroyed? This is the essence of our strategy – pre-emption. What good does it do to take the aggressive posture we have now after a couple of hundred thousand American are incinerated? Or perhaps Bell doesn’t believe that the effort we are putting forth to combat terrorism is worth it under any circumstances?

I suspect the latter. And this is because his idea of what an “existential” threat might be is so narrow as to be useless. If 10 nuclear bombs detonated on American soil, there would still be a landmass between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and mapmakers would still probably refer to it as “America.”

But what exactly would “America” look like? Nothing you or I would recognize I assure you. In that sense, al-Qaeda and their ilk are existential threats to the very idea of America – something more precious than any territory and more valuable than any building or artifact.

Besides, says Bell, we’re fighting people who live in caves and are ignorant savages. Well, not exactly. But what’s the point of informing us that the terrorist’s current arsenal includes “guns, knives, and conventional explosives?”

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.

I am very happy that Bell is so sure that al-Qaeda hasn’t “come close” to deploying nuclear or biological weapons. A definition of “close” might be appreciated because all signs point to the terrorists getting their hands on these weapons in the very near future – if they haven’t already.. And of course, after they’ve deployed them, the professor will have the satisfaction of knowing that there will be precious few people who will know or care very much that he was so spectacularly wrong.

Is it “overreacting” to try and prevent terrorists from deploying these weapons in the first place? Is it “overreacting” to attempt to break up their networks, smash their infrastructure, deny them funds, and, when necessary, go after the nations that fund them, assist them, support them, and wish them well?

If ever there was an example of the chasm that has opened up between those like Bell who, for all intents and purposes wish to wait for the hammer to fall before we react and those who would do whatever is necessary to prevent it in the first place, this article is it. Bell’s arguments couldn’t be clearer. We are big enough to absorb blows like 9/11 without “overreacting.” Just because al-Qaeda hasn’t launched a WMD attack. they don’t pose an “existential threat” to the United States.

Bell and his ilk will deny that they wish to “wait until we are attacked” before responding. But their solution – treat the terrorists as vicious criminals – has been tried already. All during the 1990’s we captured precious few terrorists, broke up even fewer networks, and al-Qaeda grew into the threat that they are today. Repeating a failed policy for the sake of not “overreacting” is idiocy. You either believe there is a threat or you don’t. And if you do, then you bend every effort to destroy that threat. Bell and his ilk want to manage the threat. If given the opportunity, the professor and his ilk will manage us into disaster:

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.

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.

Angell’s thesis was that war was futile because both victor and vanquished would be much worse off economically than if hostilities had not broken out. Essentially, the cost benefit rationale for war had disappeared in the fire and smoke of the industrial revolution. Ironically, what made modern war possible also basically made it obsolete. Of course, that didn’t stop the European powers from savagely killing each other twice during the first half of the century. Whether Angell was right or wrong hardly mattered in the sense that his analysis was fatally flawed because he believed that his kind of logic actually mattered in the long run.

Bell’s fatally flawed analysis begins with the premise that 9/11 wasn’t that bad and that our reaction to it ’ “overreaction” as Bell calls it – is the result of our failure to apply Angell-like cost benefit analyses to what our policy should be. One wonders how many dead it would take before Bell thought that we were “under reacting.”

By: Rick Moran at 4:10 pm
26 Responses to “9/11: JUST A REAL BAD DAY”
  1. 1
    Larry Said:
    4:33 pm 

    So, 3000 civilians murdered on our soil is no big deal, but 3000 dead soldiers in Iraq is horrific and warrants an immediate surrender. Does the left even debate these points?

  2. 2
    Kathy Said:
    5:06 pm 

    “The Soviet Union lost 20 million people in World War II because they chose to help Adolf Hitler start the war in the first place.”

    I don’t understand your logic here. In what way did Stalin’s initial support for Hitler “cause” over 20 million people to die in the Soviet Union? Also, you seem to be saying that the 20 million (according to Wikipedia, over 23 million, actually) who died in the Soviet Union all chose to help Hitler. I must be missing something, because I can’t believe you could really be saying that.

  3. 3
    bubbaj Said:
    5:47 pm 

    I know he didn’t intend it this way, but it sounds like a back-handed compliment of President Bush. lol!

  4. 4
    Drongo Said:
    6:09 pm 

    “Would we be “overreacting” if we took the action we are taking now – including the invasion of Iraq – after a couple of our cities are destroyed? This is the essence of our strategy – pre-emption.”

    Well, if Iraq wasn’t involved in the attacks in any way, yes, it would be an overreaction.

    Or are you claiming that Iraq was involved in the 911 attacks?

  5. 5
    bill Said:
    7:59 pm 

    The good news is the elites and newspaper columnists are the first to die under Islam. The bad news is Europe is nearly overrun by muslims. Multiculturalism has done it’s deed in Europe. We seem hell bent on following Europe’s example.

  6. 6
    Bill Arnold Said:
    8:12 pm 

    If 10 nuclear bombs detonated on American soil, there would still be a landmass between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and mapmakers would still probably refer to it as “America.”

    But what exactly would “America” look like? Nothing you or I would recognize I assure you.
    This (10 nuclear bombs is way over the top, but 1 might not be) is the only terrorist threat that matters in the short/medium run. (Long term, engineered biological weapons are scarier).
    So, our priority should be to prevent it from happening, and to prevent nuclear proliferation in general from happening because one never knows who might take over a nuclear-armed country, e.g. Pakistan.

    Unfortunately, this is not the #1 international priority of this administration (or the last several for that matter). Lack of seriousness about the real threats is the main reason I don’t generally believe the adminstration rhetoric about threats.

    I guarantee it will be easy for the Bell’s of the world to say, after the first nuke destroys an American city, that the terrorists are not an existential threat, that in the grand scheme of things, what’s one little city when compared to getting the rest of the world upset with us…
    Do you seriously assert this? My take is that it would take 1 to 2 city-destroying nuclear terrorism incidents in the US to pretty much end civilization as we know it, and not just in America either. It should not be allowed to happen.

  7. 7
    Axel Kassel Said:
    9:15 pm 

    Re the Hitler-Stalin nonaggression pact. Stalin was indeed Hitler’s ennabler, letting him start World War II in Europe. The nonagression pact signed by Ribbentrop and Molotov in the summer of 1939 quite properly surprised and horrified the French and English, because it carved up eastern Europe without a fight and gave Hitler a free hand to turn his full fury against France, the Low Countries, and Scandinavia without holding back huge reserves in the east. The author of the earlier post questioning your logic might profit from reading Churchill, Keegan, or other history of the period.

    As for Professor Bell’s bizarre argument, it’s a good thing he wasn’t advising FDR on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. When a state or a criminal conspiracy attacks you, it doesn’t matter whether they kill three, or 3,000, or three million. You are in a war.

  8. 8
    Punditarian Said:
    9:24 pm 

    Rick,

    Your excellent response to Professor Bell’s nonsense deserves to be widely read. I think you are spot on regarding the significance of the focus on the “20 million Soviet dead.” That surely marks Professor Bell as a hard core leftist. As William Blake once said, “Who comes from the kitchen smells of its smoke; who adheres to a sect has something of its cant:the college-air pursues the student, and dry inhumanity him who herds with literary pedants.” Professor Bell clearly is imbued with Marxist-Leninist cant.

    Although I arrived at conclusions similar to yours, here: http://astuteblogger.blogspot.com/2007/01/leftist-prof-says-911-was-nothing.html,
    I forgot to add an important point:

    the “20 million Soviet dead” figure is folklore and can not be documented or substantiated. Moreover, it is impossible to know how many among the millions of Soviet citizens killed during the WW2 period were killed by the Germans and how many of them were killed by Stalin.

    Your other point, that Stalin’s strategic decision to help Hitler undoubtedly helped enable Germany’s attack on Soviet Russia, is certainly well taken. The earlier we act to confront and eradicate an implacable enemy who seeks our destruction, the better off we will be. We had already delayed too long by September Eleventh.

  9. 9
    Sean Hackbarth Said:
    9:29 pm 

    Suppose we got lax on anti-terrorism operations and Islamists launched a series of attacks that hit places where average Americans gathered: schools, shopping centers, office parks. Imagine if they occurred periodically for days or even a few weeks. The public would stay huddled in their homes (like the Brits did during the Blitz) and wondered if their nation would ever be safe again. To them it would be an existential crisis just like New Yorkers, Washingtonians, and many of us who watched the towers crumble.

    Are we at risk of the total destruction of the United States? No, but a sustained attack would change her character immensely.

  10. 10
    SGT Christopher Whitaker Said:
    5:35 am 

    I have noticed that support or opposition to the GWOT is based primarily on ideology and subsequent Party affiliation. By and large, conservatives and Republicans (not necessarily the same thing) are pro-GWOT, while Democrats and Leftists/liberals are anti-. The vocal opposition bases their disdain primarily around President Bush. I often wonder what the “anti-war” opposition would look like, or if it would exist at all, if Sen. Kerry was the 43rd President of the United States, and had done the same thing as the current President.

  11. 11
    gregdn Said:
    9:25 am 

    I think we have come to put 9/11 in better perspective after the six years or so. Like Pearl Harbor, it was a masterful plan, well executed. Like Pearl Harbor it was a one shot deal. Just as the Japanese couldn’t make a sneak attack on us anymore the Islamic terrorists couldn’t hijack planes using box cutters any more.
    While I think Bell’s comparison of Soviet dead in WWII is off base, I do think we initally overestimated Al Queda’s strength.j
    Sgt. Whitaker: your contention that people are either for or against the GWOT is ridiculous. Nobody doesn’t support the war on terror, but many of us don’t like some of the tools the Government has asked for to do the job.

  12. 12
    diffus Said:
    9:54 am 

    What Bell and others like him ignore is that the cost of a successful major terrorist attack cannot be measured only in the number of lives lost. The economic consequences of successful major terrorist attacks are incalculable. How many people won’t come to work in Manhattan after a dirty bomb goes off on Wall Street? How many people will decide urban living can be hazardous to your health after simultaneous attacks in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston? What would happen in towns along the path of such an exodus? How many people will lose their jobs or not be able to find work in the ensuing recession? How much equity in retirement accounts and college funds will vanish overnight when the Dow drops to 2,000? How many people who need health care won’t be able to get it after resources are diverted to treating the casualties of a mass attack?

    The true threat comes not in the number of lives the enemy can destroy in a successful attack, but the long-term consequences on the vast majority who would survive.

  13. 13
    Drongo Said:
    10:37 am 

    “I often wonder what the “anti-war” opposition would look like, or if it would exist at all, if Sen. Kerry was the 43rd President of the United States, and had done the same thing as the current President.”

    http://www.antiwar.com is a good example of an anti-war stance carried through by non-liberals throughout democratic and republican governments.

    Plus, anti-war feeling in the UK is strong even though it is the party of the left running the government.

  14. 14
    David M Said:
    10:47 am 

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 01/30/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

  15. 15
    The Saloon dot net Trackbacked With:
    5:15 pm 

    9/11: Just a real bad day

     
    I pity David Bell. And, in a way, I envy him. To be so oblivious to the threat posed …

  16. 16
    Watcher of Weasels Trackbacked With:
    1:44 am 

    Submitted for Your Approval

    First off…  any spambots reading this should immediately go here, here, here,  and here.  Die spambots, die!  And now…  here are all the links submitted by members of the Watcher’s Council for this week’s vote. Council li…

  17. 17
    The Glittering Eye » Blog Archive » Eye on the Watcher’s Council Pinged With:
    10:27 am 

    [...] Right Wing Nut House, “9/11: Just a Real Bad Day” [...]

  18. 18
    Hube Said:
    7:58 am 

    Weren’t less than 3000 black Americans lynched in our country’s history?

    That’s “not so bad” ...

    [/sarcasm]

  19. 19
    Watcher of Weasels Trackbacked With:
    1:48 am 

    The Council Has Spoken!

    First off…  any spambots reading this should immediately go here, here, here,  and here.  Die spambots, die!  And now…  the winning entries in the Watcher’s Council vote for this week are 9/11: Just a Real Bad Day by Right…

  20. 20
    The Glittering Eye » Blog Archive » The Council Has Spoken! Pinged With:
    7:26 am 

    [...] The Watcher’s Council has announced its picks for the most outstanding posts of the preceding week. The winning Council post was Right Wing Nut House’s post,  “9/11: Just a Real Bad Day”.  Second place honors went to Bookworm Room’s assessment of Palestinian intentions, “They’ve Finally Admitted It”. The winning non-Council post was The Huffinton Post’s “’New Trend on the Rise:  the Patriotic Terrorist”.  In second place was Council member emeritus Dr. Sanity’s post, “Self-Delusion and Emboldening the Enemy”. The complete results are here. [...]

  21. 21
    The COLOSSUS OF RHODEY Trackbacked With:
    12:35 pm 

    Watcher’s Council results

    And now…  the winning entries in the Watcher’s Council vote for this week are 9/11: Just a Real Bad Day by Right Wing Nut House, and New Trend on the Rise: The Patriotic Terrorist by The Huffington Post.  All members,...

  22. 22
    Soccer Dad Trackbacked With:
    2:32 am 

    Council speak 02/02/2007

    The council has spoken and decreed that the winning council entry was Right Wing Nuthouse’s 9/11 just a really bad day a response to a moonbat professor writing in the LA Times who thinks that the U.S. overreacted. The runner up was newcomer Bookworm …

  23. 23
    Right Wing Nut House » THE COUNCIL HAS SPOKEN Pinged With:
    11:30 pm 

    [...] PUNDIT VINCE AUT MORIRE VODKAPUNDIT WALLO WORLD WIDE AWAKES WIZBANG WUZZADEM ZERO POINT BLOG THE COUNCIL HAS SPOKEN FINAL THOUGHTS ON MARCOTTE WHEN MARMOSETS ATTACK CRASHING AND BURNING OPERATION TO SECURE BAGHDADARKIN: IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEEDNIE ON IRAQ PUTS BURDEN FOR PROGRESS ON IRAQIS THE COUNCIL HAS SPOKEN CHIRAC’S “CASUAL” STUPIDITY THEY JUST CAN’T HELP THEMSELVES CIVIC INSANITYDAYANTI-WAR PROTEST: WHERE IS EVERYONE? ROMNEY AND RELIGION WHAT NASRALLAH HATH WROUGHT THE COUNCIL HAS SPOKEN “24″ (73) ABLE DANGER (10) Bird Flu (5) Blogging (112) Books (9) CARNIVAL OF THE Admin Login Register Valid XHTML XFN Design by: Hosted by: Powered by: 2/8/2007 THE COUNCIL HAS SPOKEN CATEGORY: WATCHER’SCOUNCIL [...]

  24. 24
    Frank Said:
    5:30 pm 

    Get a grip, your sense of scale is askew. What was 9/11 compared to what Japan did in China, or what was done in the Congo? Pinochot killed more of his country’s citizens. Drunk drivers killed more Americans and did more property damage in 2001, and every year since, than OBL. Our crappy health care system, with it’s amazingly high child mortality rate, killed more people in 2001, and every year since, than OBL. Trillions for a b.s war against a b.s. enemy. Please, is the scarest threat you can find? In the grand scheme of things your bogey man is just a joke.

  25. 25
    AMERICAN FUTURE - Trying to make sense of a world in turmoil » Watcher Council Results Pinged With:
    10:08 am 

    [...] 1st Place: “9/11: Just a Real Bad Day”—Right Wing Nut House 2nd Place: “They’ve Finally Admitted It”—Bookworm Room [...]

  26. 26
    alyne Said:
    1:34 am 

    I agree with you when you said that “9/11 can not be compaired to the other wars that the United States has fought in.” However, I have to diagree with you on the terrorist not being able to treaten the exictance of the U.S. I think that if the terrorist really wanted to destroy America and its people then the only think that they would have to do is launch their neuclear weapons and wipe out all of America. 9/11 could have been a warning to us that they are willing to do anything and that they should be taken seriously on all of their actions and words. America should take everything that the terrorist do very serious, so that they do not let the terrorist have an opporitunity to carry out their treats or anything like that.

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