Thursday, February 01, 2007

Putting 9-11 into perspective

This LA Times op-ed is getting lots of blog attention. It’s an odd piecedisjointed, muddled, without a well-argued thesis, but filled with sweeping generalizations that do not stand up to scrutiny.

Was 9/11 really that bad?

The attacks were a horrible act of mass murder, but history says we're overreacting.

That said, he makes a very important point about the War on Terror:

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.
Very true. Now then, where is the evidence that America is over-reacting? Sure some polemicists have compared the Islamo-fascists to Hitler and some, like Podhoretz, may talk about World War IV. That is pretty thin evidence of an American over-reaction.

If we look at what the Bush administration has done (as opposed to what some pundits have said) it is crystal clear that the US is not using the World War Two model for the WoT. In no way have we waged total war in Afghanistan or Iraq. So why drag the Soviet experience of 1941-1945 into the discussion?

Professor Bell wants us to know that over-reaction is in our Western heritage. We can blame it on the Enlightenment!

The Enlightenment, however, popularized the notion that war was a barbaric relic of mankind's infancy, an anachronism that should soon vanish from the Earth. Human societies, wrote the influential thinkers of the time, followed a common path of historical evolution from savage beginnings toward ever-greater levels of peaceful civilization, politeness and commercial exchange.

The unexpected consequence of this change was that those who considered themselves "enlightened," but who still thought they needed to go to war, found it hard to justify war as anything other than an apocalyptic struggle for survival against an irredeemably evil enemy. In such struggles, of course, there could be no reason to practice restraint or to treat the enemy as an honorable opponent.
Here’s a good rule of thumb--be suspicious of historians who deal in Big Ideas and Sweeping Generalities. Often, there is less to their argument than meets the eye.

How is it that the most important wars of the nineteenth century do not fit into his schema? Prussia’s wars against Austria and France lack the apocalyptic trappings he posits as inherent to modern war. The American Civil War saw slaughter on a massive scale, but the post-Enlightenment armies of the North and South were more solicitous of civilians than were the pre-Enlightenment armies of the Thirty Years War. The men who led those armies recognized their opposite numbers as honorable men. Neither Grant nor Sherman sought a Carthaginian peace. Lee and Longstreet accepted an honorable defeat rather than continue their “apocalyptic” struggle through guerilla war.

The question that nags at me is this: Why is the LA Times (and other MSM big dogs) so eager to “put 9-11 into perspective”? It reminds me of the media frontlash provoked by United 93.

Only certain issues get the perspective treatment; only certain positions command precious op-ed space even when the argument is feeble and sloppy. For example, I cannot imagine the LA Times running columns that apply the Bell method to the subjects of date rape, lynching or the civil rights of Muslims.

Date rape is a horrible crime. But the current efforts to raise the visibility of the crime overstate both the risk and the long-term damage women face. Women in America are infinitely safer than the European women liberated by the Red Army. In 1944-45, over 2,000,000 women suffered brutal attacks (often gang rapes) at the hands of the victors. Yet as the post-war revival of Germany demonstrates, recovery is possible without the Oprah treatment.


Lynching is a horrible crime and a terrible blot on American history. But as Stanley Crouch points out “since 1980 street gangs have killed 10,000 people in Los Angeles, which is three times the number of black people lynched throughout the United States between 1877 and 1900, the highest tide of racial murder in the history of the nation.” Our obsession with the sins of the distant past is blinding us to the real problems that confront our cities today. Black History Month is no longer a tool for education; it has become the instrument of denial and neglect.


Some Muslim leaders worry that the post 9-11 mood has placed their community under unfair and unjustified scrutiny. They point to racism as the driving force to the investigations. Their quickness to play the racism card is a debating trick and shows that they do not know their own history. When the Arab nation of
Syria confronted the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood they leveled the town of Hama with artillery and killed between 10,000 and 30,000 inhabitants. By world standards, the FBI response to 9-11 has been the epitome of restraint.

The op-ed editors at the LA Times would immediately reject any of these columns (rightly) and could point out a host of logical errors and rhetorical tricks. They have a blind spot, it seems, when it comes to 9-11.

NOTE: I see that the LA Times has changed the headline on the column. I'm going to keep the original. One small blow against the memory hole.

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