Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Was Pearl Harbor really that bad? - mainstreaming hate (1)

There must be something in the water, or maybe last month's changing of the political guard has emboldened more people to say what they really feel without thinking. Whatever the cause, haters are coming out of the woodwork, and not just in remote corners of the Internet.

The first was an astounding piece by David Bell in last week's Sunday LA Times (the print edition, so presumably pretty widely read). The piece was originally titled "Was 9/11 really that bad?" but it has been changed to something much more innocuous in the archived web version. No word on whether the Times sent out crews armed with liquid paper to knock on doors and fix the dead tree copies. I would never even have noticed it but not for that incendiary title; it jumped out at me from the "Most Viewed" list on the right of the page as I was doing my daily Lakers reading and, it not being April 1, I had to click through and check it out.

As you would expect given where the piece appeared, Bell's answer is no, 9/11 wasn't that bad. He nonsensically downplays the deaths of ~3,000 on our own soil by comparing it to the ~20 million Soviet deaths during World War II. Notice how, right there in the first paragraph, he indirectly trots out the old US-Soviet moral equivalence card...Bell is obviously not a newcomer to the America-bashing game.

It is particularly odd to bring the Soviets into the discussion. I've read that we lost a few soldiers in WWII ourselves. Why choose the Soviets, who never put any value on their own citizens' lives anyway? They killed more of their own before the war (and perhaps after as well) than they had killed during the war, after all. I'm guessing it's to avoid the obvious parallel that the US entered that war after getting...attacked on our own soil. And suffering far fewer lost lives and a tiny fraction of the lost treasure compared to what would happen 6 decades later. I imagine most readers' BS detector went off right there in the first paragraph.

Those who kept reading found that Bell's point is essentially that the US was and is overreacting. He throws out a common canard, that the low number of casualties is evidence that there is not much of a threat (note the wholly gratuitous reference to Hiroshima, in case you missed his thesis that WE ARE THE BAD GUYS!). Indeed, the low number of casualties abroad seems to me to be a result of the excessive restraint we show in conducting modern warfare. We have entered an age of uber-morality in engaging enemies, which this enemy uses to advantage by intermingling with civilians, attacking from schools or hospitals or mosques, and waging a fierce propaganda war via an American and European press eager to uncritically lap up any portrayal of the Evil American Soldier. If anything, haven't we underreacted, and isn't that much of the reason we find ourselves in our current position in Iraq? It looks like it to me, from backing off in Fallujah the first time to the Al-Sadr continuing to live, any claim that we are overreacting in Iraq (much less Afghanistan) seems at odds with what has been happening on the ground. And of course we have suffered no more attacks at home precisely because of the tightening of security and legal measures taken in the years since 9/11, hard to see any overreaction on that front either.

Overreacting would have been the permanent destruction of Mecca, or rounding up Muslims in 2002 as we did Japanese in 1942. Color me unimpressed by the argument that we needed to suffer many more civilian deaths before doing anything in response or considering the threat of a worldwide death cult bent on killing us to be existential. I don't need 20 million dead to consider this thing serious, I'd prefer that we proactively prevent future civilian casualties. Setting impossible standards to be met before it is considered acceptable to fight back, or continully changing said standards to keep the goalposts moving, is a trope of the pacifist, but not one that needs to be taken seriously. The problem for guys like Bell isn't really that we overreact, but that we react at all, because in their world we are a bad nation, unworthy of defense.

UPDATE 2/21/07: Lee Harris further deconstructs the notion that we underreacted, including some useful analogies.

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