Monday, January 29, 2007

Putting 9/11 in Perspective

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Yesterday the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed by David A. Bell suggesting that the U.S. response to 9/11 constitutes a "massive overreaction":

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.

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.

Of course, nothing sends rightie bloggers into hysteria faster than any suggestion that Americans are not the center of the universe.

Here is "Punditarian" at The Astute Bloggers:

What's so beautiful about his opening paragraph, is that he reveals his hard-left background in the choice of his comparison.

If you wanted to compare the number of American casualties on September Eleventh to some other, far higher figure, it would be possible to choose the total American casualties in World War II, or the total United States and Confederate States casualties in the War Between the States, or any number of other conflicts.

But the real homeland of the hard left will forever be the "Soviet Union." Thus I surmise that Professor Bell developed in a hard-left milieu. How he must have loved writing "the Soviet Union." I wonder if the copy editors at the L.A. Times edited out his references to the "heroic sacrifices of the Soviet working class" in the "Great Patriotic War." Can't you hear the strains of the "Internationale" in the background? Or is it "Meadowlands?"

No, nothing the United States has suffered will ever match the christlike agony of the heroic Soviet commissars, and until the United States does suffer like the Soviets did, leftist professors like David Avrom Bell will have no sympathy with their own country and their own government.

First of all, The Astute Blogger needs to remember that the 3,000 people who died on 9/11 were not all Americans. That said, a minimal amount of research on Mr. Unastute's part would have revealed a far more likely reason for why Prof. Bell chose to contrast the 9/11 death toll to the Soviet Union in World War II, rather than to the American losses in World War II, or in the Civil War, or in any other war the U.S. has fought: The Soviet Union's death toll in World War II far surpassed that of any other nation. When the war was done, over 23 million people had lost their lives in the Soviet Union. Roughly 19 million of these deaths were civilians. The corresponding figure for war-related U.S. civilian deaths in World War II was ... zero. Even comparing just the combat deaths, there is no comparison between U.S. and Soviet deaths in terms of sheer numbers: the Soviet Union lost about 9 million; the U.S., 300,000.

Now let's look at the American Civil War. Union deaths -- both combat and non-combat -- were about 365,000. Total number of Confederate war-related deaths were about 134,000. Total Civil War losses: roughly half a million. Is this an insignificant death toll? Of course not. Is it comparable to 23 million deaths for just one country in World War II? I don't think so.

There is something unseemly about arguing which war or human tragedy has caused more suffering. It's true that comparisons are odious when they are used to minimize or dismiss human suffering. It's also unseemly to privilege our own suffering over everyone else's and say that 3,000 deaths on one day five years ago somehow give us blanket permission to invade, bomb, and occupy any country in the world we choose, whether those countries pose any real threat to us at all, killing thousands of innocent people whose lives, and deaths, somehow matter less than the 3,000 who died in 2001. At some point, the price for Americans working out their anger on the rest of the planet becomes too high -- and that point has long since been passed.


Punditarian said...


Thanks for noticing my article!

Despite what you say, I still think that Professor Bell's reference to the "20 million Soviet dead" is a dead giveaway that he is intellectually living in a Marxist-Leninist milieu. As William Blake noted in his edition of Lavater, "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."

Besides which, the figure of "20 million Soviet dead" is itself pure Soviet propaganda, and can not be documented, authenticated, or substantiated. Of the millions of Soviet citizens who perished during the war years, how many were killed by Hitler and how many were killed by Stalin, anyway?

reliapundit said...

according to richard pipes emeritus prof at harvard in russian history the 23 million figure is not-credible, and likely contains millions and millions executed by stalin, many shot in the back for desertion, and may in gulags.

my cousin died on 9/11 in the JET THAT HIT THE PENTAGON.

folks lie you and bell are scum.

all the people that were murdered on 9/11 - a small small fraction of the number the enemy intended to kill (30,000 were saved that day!) - were murdered for being Americans or "complicit" with America, and you and your lefty "we deserved it" crowd can go to hell.

the genocide of stalin and the attempted genocide by the 9/11 plotters is simply evil and you defend one and belittle the murders of the other.

have you no shame?

have you no shame?

have you no shame?