Friday, July 13, 2007

Steve Chapman on the Myths of the War on Terrorism, or, Why 9/11 remains overrated

Finally, an article on Townhall worthy of reading, and not just for guffaws. Steve Chapman really nails it.

"On Sept. 12, 2001, it was easy to believe that we would suffer dozens of major attacks on U.S. soil over the next six years, and almost impossible to imagine we would suffer none. Instead of being the opening blitz of a "long, global war," 9/11 was a freak event that may never be replicated. "

Indeed, let's not forget why 9/11 worked: our strategy for dealing with hijackers was to cooperate, let them land the plane where ever they wanted, and get off safely. That's how a bunch of guys with box cutters were able to take over airliners full of people and crash them into the twin towers. We saw what happened on Flight 93 once the passengers knew that it was a suicide mission. That is what would happen if 9/11 were attempted again. Remember the shoebomber flight, where passengers attacked and subdued a man with a shoe bomb. That would be the result of another attempted 9/11. So why did we turn our society upside down? Plain old irrational fear, plain and simple. Chapman continues on the 3,000+ deaths of 9/11:

"That's too many, but it's not a danger on the order of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or even Saddam Hussein. It's more like organized crime -- an ongoing problem demanding unceasing vigilance, a malady that can be contained but never eliminated. "

Let's put that in perspective. In America, about 2.5 million of us die every year. That's about 50,000 a week. So the week of 9/11 our annual death total was 6% above average. Now of course every death is tragic, but we don't make public policy based on every death, and a one-time 6% event is not the world-ending event some made of it. That same winter, it was estimated that more Americans died that winter from poor policies to prevent pneumonia. We are the victims of our village instincts, which cause us to react to every death as if it happened in a population of 200 people. We panic over 3,000 deaths that happen all at once in the same place, and don't even notice the same number dying in different places at different times. And as Chapman notes, in doing so, we elevate Bin Laden and his cronies:

"By framing the fight as a global war, we have helped Osama bin Laden and hurt ourselves. Had we treated him and his confederates as the moral equivalent of international drug lords or sex traffickers, the organization might not have the romantic image it has acquired. By exaggerating the potential impact, we also magnified the disruptive effect of any plots, which is just what the terrorists seek.

And in doing so, we continue to give away many of our civil rights, fearing boogie men armed with toenail clippers and baby bottles, all to prevent a risk less than that we expose ourselves driving to work every day. Chapman sums it up nicely:

"The 9/11 attack was a crisis that has largely passed, but no one in Washington wants to admit it. It's politically safer to depict the danger as undiminished no matter how long we go without an attack. But someday, we will look back and ask if we were acting out of sensible caution or unfounded panic. "

I'm saying that now. We acted on unfounded panic, with little consideration of actual risk, we elevated our enemies to a level they cold never have attained on their own, and we have allowed politicians to take advantage of our fears far too much, for far too long.

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