Was 9/11 really that bad?

David A. Bell offers that he does not think 9/11 was “that bad” in a piece published yesterday in the Los Angeles Times :

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.


I’ll skip down a ways so you have a better idea of where Mr. Bell is coming from:

…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.

Even if one counts our dead in Iraq and Afghanistan as casualties of the war against terrorism, which brings us to about 6,500, we should remember that roughly the same number of Americans die every two months in automobile accidents.

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.

So why has there been such an overreaction? [emphasis added mine] Unfortunately, the commentators who detect one have generally explained it in a tired, predictably ideological way: calling the United States a uniquely paranoid aggressor that always overreacts to provocation.

What number would have satisfied Mr. Bell. I mean, how many needed to die on 9/11, in all the previous attacks, and in future attacks by Islamofascists for America to no longer be a “paranoid aggressor?”

While “only” 2,973 people died on 9/11, they died at the rate of 29 people per minute. Taking Mr. Bell’s opening scenario one step further, had Islamofascists murdered 29 people here during every minute of the year following 8:46 a.m. EST on 9/11, more than 11 million would have been slaughtered. Is that a few more than the United States loses in traffic accidents each year, Mr. Bell?

Mr. Bell contends that “it is no disrespect to the victims of 9/11″ for him to say, “they still pale in comparison with any number of military assaults on civilian targets of the recent past, from Hiroshima on down.” Meaning, America should never use overwhelming force, no matter how many lives it ultimately saves.

Mr. Bell is obviously a high-minded and hindsighted historian who also thinks America had not yet suffered enough when it used nuclear weapons to end Japan’s resistance. If say, after a few million Japanese and 250,000 Americans died (the number most historians estimate would have died during an invasion) and we had found ourselves in a “quagmire,” would have it then been alright, Mr. Bell, for America to have nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Surely, Mr. Bell thinks Saddam Hussein slaughtering 320,000 of his own people, paying $25,000 to the families of Palestian suicide-bombers, his willingness to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction programs, and training of 2,000 foreign terrorists each year from 1998 to 2002 was not enough to justify our invasion. I think Saddam Husseim needed to be stopped yet moralists like Mr. Bell need the bodies to be stacked far higher.

Mr. Bell ended his commentary with this:

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.

My family needs no further proof about this enemy’s intent.

World Trade Center 9192001

While we visit only one grave, that number is already too high.

I wonder how many members of his family would Islamofascists need to kill before Mr. Bell came to that same conclusion. Surely he hopes to never learn the answer to that question.

  18 comments for “Was 9/11 really that bad?

  1. LS
    February 5, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    I think that Mr. Bell would have to live the events of 9/11/01 every minute of every hour of every day as those of us who lost loved ones that day or are part of the FDNY family that are still dealing with and suffering with the outcome of that day. To that I say Mr. Bell watch someone you love go from a tower of strength doing his job, bringing home as many brothers as he could only to learn that he now is wasting away because of something a coward who hides behind a military movement designed.

  2. Anonymous
    January 31, 2007 at 10:51 am

    RE JD: No existential threat? With rogue nations like Iran and North Korea developing nukes they would be more than willing to hand off to Islamofascists? How about the Anthrax attacks, which killed five Americans and paralyzed this nation? Nobody seems to want to talk about that anymore. The point is, any maniac with a nuke or weaponized Anthrax or, God forbid, smallpox, can be an existential threat in this dangerous new age we find ourselves in. You don’t need Panzer divisions like the Nazis, or seaborne armadas like tha Japanese, to threaten an entire nation’s existence or cause horrible devastation and fear. All you need, as we have learned, is 19 dedicated fanatics with boxcutters and no redeeming human qualities whatsoever. You either learn from history or you repeat it.

  3. Ian
    January 31, 2007 at 12:43 am

    I missed a point. The terrorists cannot literally destroy our entire society? Well that changes everything. I agree. Until your enemies can literal destroy your entire civilization, why fret? And if some odd number of people are murdered in the interim, say by the routine suicide bombing or hijiacking, just remember they cannot destroy everything, so stop whining.

  4. Hank Williams4th
    January 31, 2007 at 12:39 am

    Mr. Bell, an American citizen, lives comfortably off the greatest capitalist country in the world, obviously has a lot of free time to intellectualize about Islamofascism. He spends his time apologizing for America’s enemies. Mr. Bell, aren’t you glad you do not live under Sharia Law, in Iran, or in one of the Socialist or Communist countries, eg. China, North Korea, because you would not have this free time to be bagging your own country!

    Yes, we are bemused by your intellectual musings – America should just chill it … Islamofascists … no big deal … just a nuisance. Mr. Bell, send a copy of your drivel to OBL, or the Al Qaeda hierarchy – it will surely make their day that they have Americans like you, undermining your own country!

    How come you American Libs hate your own country so much? Oh, I see, you only want what is best … to make America a better place … namely, turn it into socialist utopia. That’s the dream that every American Liberal hanker for. Socialism and Communism are the secret nirvanas that only Liberals know about? I wonder why my dad, and his 2 brothers, and a sister fled Red China when the Commie tanks rolled in! Given the chance, half of Communist China would relocate to America! But of course, they can’t, because it is illegal for them to leave the country. But you, Mr. Bell, is free to leave America, and head for Socialist or Communist Shangri-La.

    Hank Williams4th
    Australia

  5. Ian
    January 31, 2007 at 12:30 am

    Call me uneducated but those who murder 3000 people in a single morning seem like a threat to me. I mean would 30,000 have been enough? Or one million? I apologize to the enlightened Prof. Bell that I mistook the murder of a measly few thousand people as something to worry about. The idea that we even went into Afghanistan to close those al-Qaeda camps after a mere three thousand people killed seems so overwrought in retrospect. I truly aspire towards the day when I like Prof. Bell achieve those rarefied heights where I too can shrug my shoulders about such pedestrian events as 9/11, having finally learned that getting upset about such an event is silly when compared to say, the Lisbon earthquake. To ensure against a future overreaction I am setting my new unacceptable casualty meter to a more robust 50,000. Anything below that? Well, I’ll just open up a history book and blithely tell myself that it could have been so much worse, so why bother.

  6. Carl
    January 30, 2007 at 8:55 am

    According to the liberals, Cindy Sheehan having lost her son in Iraq gives her “absolute moral authority” on the matter of the Iraq War. This time the rules are different. Apparently for David Bell, having lost no loved ones on 9/11, and being a tenured liberal elite professor, gives one absolute moral authority.

  7. Glenn Reynolds
    January 30, 2007 at 1:40 am

    I think you’ve just proved his point.

    An “existential” threat is one that can actually pose a threat to a society’s “existence” – Nazi Germany, the Japanese, the Russians all had massive amounts of men under arms, a highly industrialized base, etc.. They actually could have wiped out America, if left unchecked.

    Sure, the terrorists would LOVE to pose a threat to America’s existence, but “wishes” aren’t the same as “being”. I wish to be a millionaire, but I am sadly not. As long as we keep WMD away from them, keep killing or incarcerating them, and attack the conditions that breed the terrorist insanity – we will be OK.

    Pointing this out doesn’t diminish the terrorist threat at all – they are still a danger and we must do whatever we need to to keep America safe. Still, we have to know who it is we’re fighting.

  8. usasamurai
    January 30, 2007 at 12:36 am

    God Bless You.

  9. Ken
    January 29, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    Mr. Bell is either educated beyond his capacity to reason or his capacity for reason has been ideologically neutered. Based on the set of facts he presents, he could hold up the U.S. war on terror as an example of the PROPER course of action. After all, the U.S. has NOT suffered 20 million in casualties because it took relatively early corrective action. On the other hand, not only did the Soviets turn a blind eye to Nazi aggression (both verbal and actual), they entered into a “non-aggression” pact with Hitler that only led them to the slaughter. Of course, since Mr. Bell starts from an anti-American perspective, he must end with a historical analysis that could not be more wrong.
    Same old lefty multicultural trope. If the self-loathing West keeps it up, inshallah, there will be only one culture left in a generaton or three.

  10. S. Richard
    January 29, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    Typical erudite academic prof. who still thinks that political correctness is the answer. In today’s world the only response that makes sense is military action. Ask the Jewish people about being an enabler. What about Cambodia? Oh yes, after we left it wasn’t that bad? We are to ignorant of people of the world to try to make them understand Dmocracy. If Israel after 2,000 years has not been able to create an environment of peace, other than military action will bring the terrorists to the table? We don’t study history, so we are bound to repeat our mistakes!

  11. Jebster
    January 29, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    David Bell is another apologist for the terrorists. Damned pathetic piece of garbage.

  12. Marc S. Jennings
    January 29, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Thank you for a powerful response to what was, I believe, a very silly article. I’m not sure what Mr. Bell’s intention was, but he seems to be arguing semantics. In other words, we are wrong to label our struggle against Islamic terrorism as a “war”–because not enough people have been killed.

    To me, this seems a particularly trite and unserious proposition. If we had only referred to it as something else, police action, for example, the whole basis for Mr. Bell’s commentary would evaporate.

    This is not a traditional war, with declared combatants who engage in open battle. It is a struggle against terrorists whose aim is to intimidate and humble us through acts of murder and terror. Given a chance, they would rather blow up a girls elementary school than a military convoy. They are as evil a bunch as mankind has ever produced and any person with the least bit of thinking power can appreciate the danger.

    Yet, this Johns Hopkins professor chides us for overreacting. Well, excuse me, but I like the term “war” just fine.

  13. JD
    January 29, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    Tim, the whole point of Bell’s essay was that these terrorists do not remotely posses the ability to “kill one American every 29 minutes for one year.” By making such a far fetched analogy, you are making his point perfectly- namely that out of paranoia we are assigning to this enemy powers they do not posses. He is right that America’s *existence* is not literally threatened by these fanatics and to reply to his point with a picture of ground zero is just an emotionally driven distraction from the reality that some out buildings and airplanes are threatened, yes, but American society as we know it?? Come on. If we had a better handle on the nature of the threat, we’d fight it in smart and stealth ways instead of making stupid moves like stirring up a hornet’s nest in Iraq. The Iraq war has already killed more Iraqis than Hussein ever killed and these people have mothers, sons, husbands, wives, just like the 9.11 victims did. I applaud Bell for having the courage to express logical insight and to transcend the conventional hysteria.

  14. Jason O'Connell
    January 29, 2007 at 9:13 am

    One factor makes the USSR’s WWII experience a generally inappropriate analogy to almost all other conflicts:

    1) The case can easily be made that the Soviet government was more dangerous to the average Russian than the Nazis. The majority of the USSR’s approx. 25 million deaths were the result of Stalin’s wartime domestic policies, i.e., calculated decisions to starve entire regions of the USSR.

    It is a particularly poor analogy to September 11, and seriously undermines Bell’s thesis.

  15. HOV DUmmy
    January 29, 2007 at 9:10 am

    Obviously American dead don’t count as much as Soviets or anyone else. Of course, Mr. Bell doesn’t bother to mention the millions who died at the hands of Stalin and his henchmen in the labor camps of the Gulag. This moral equivancy is hypocritical; all people and cultures are the same and equal except for the US which deserves every attack on its people, economy and government. It is Mr. Bell and his ilk who are paranoid; paranoid that the world doesn’t like us and what to do???

  16. John Shea
    January 29, 2007 at 8:50 am

    I would only like to add that sitting on the sidelines of history counting the dead is the most macabre activity I can envision. It’s like the old crones knitting at the guillotine.

    The whole point of this war is to prevent the 20 million deaths that Mr. Bell so casually bean-counts. The greater tragedy is that Americans like Mr. Bell are so perfectly inward-directed that they have absolutely know idea that there are evil men in the world who will do great evil to us if they are not stopped. God save us from such historians as these.

  17. January 29, 2007 at 7:14 am

    Amen, Brother. Thanks for taking this ninny to task. Well done, sir.

  18. Pingback: FamiliesBlog

Comments are closed.