Three Comments on Recent Events (9/11)
The first was sent out the afternoon of the attacks and published in the South Bend Tribune and the Notre Dame Observer on 9/12, and distributed via email. The second is an op-ed based on remarks given on a panel on 9/13. The third is the outline for those remarks
1. Terrorism on September 11, 2001
This is a national and global tragedy which weighs on all our hearts, and it is a personal tragedy for the tens or hundreds of thousands of people who lost relatives or whose relatives were injured in the terrorist acts.
Terrorism is a form of war. Terrorists cause pain to achieve political objectives. So far though, we do not know who the enemy is or what their war aims are.
For a war, let us put things in perspective: we may have lost five or ten thousand people today. Perhaps less, perhaps far more. We lost approximately fifty thousand battle dead (+/-) in World War I and Vietnam, thirty three thousand battle dead in Korea. So we may have lost today something near a third of the soldiers we lost in each of these three major wars. As these attacks today killed mainly civilians, we are all soldiers in this war. On the other hand, we have lost a very tiny part of our national population and economy. We'll be back, and we'll be fine. This is not to be callous, but to suggest that looking at the long term and the big picture can help us remain calm and confident.
Save for Vietnam, we emerged from all of our wars with many human tragedies, but really quite strong as a country. From Vietnam, our soul was tarnished, and our soul, our psychological sense of safety and well-being may well be the biggest price we pay when we look back at today with historical perspective.
This was an extremely well organized attack. Four planes simultaneously hijacked, three making it right on target. As the hijackers likely had to kill the pilots and fly the planes themselves, they had to be trained to fly some of the most advanced civilian aircraft in the skies today. We can guess that the plane from Pittsburgh crashed and did not accomplish its mission due to the courage of its pilots. Considering how much of this attack planning and execution took place on US soil, this is a bigger intelligence failure than Pearl Harbor. 1500+ died at Pearl Harbor.
It was also well planned in that the terrorists may have gone into the attack starting with only a few very light weapons - no truck bombs - and still managed huge devastation. We are lucky that weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons appear not to have been used.
As we look to the future, there are several major implications, and perhaps one silver lining.
First, the U.S. may take a more isolationist turn. The U.S. will debate the continued worth of our involvement and exposure in the world. Is the price paid today worth having troops stationed globally and being politically involved throughout the world, especially the Middle East? I hope we do not take an isolationist turn for two reasons: We are so powerful that no matter what we do, people will always find a way to be mad at us. Also, if we turn inwards, those states we help defend will have to fend for themselves. States from Japan to Turkey may be quicker to build nuclear weapons. Security spirals, tensions, and arms races will likely accelerate throughout the world if we turn inward. Political and military security is a pre-requisite for economic growth and stability, so US isolationism will in turn damage the world economy.
Second, we will take strong steps to prevent terrorism from recurring. This will pose a threat to our civil liberties and privacy. We may be happy to lose some liberty and privacy to gain more security. On the other hand, considering how much privacy and liberty we have already lost to corporate and government databases, all without much debate at all, we may lose a lot of liberty and privacy and not even know what happened. From airport security to monitoring of communications, expect many changes.
Third, many experts on terrorism have downplayed the possibility that terrorists would ever execute an attack on this scale. In their logic, terrorists would never hurt their ability to achieve political goals and gain sympathy by such a large scale attack. The calming conventional wisdom of many terrorism experts is wrong. Terrorists clearly can cause massive damage, and their goal may have been simply to cause a maximum amount of pain. What goals are served by this pain, we do not know. But many who would wish us ill, would delight in an isolationist turn by the U.S.
Fourth, the U.S. has always enjoyed a luxurious security situation: 3000 mile wide moats and peaceful countries surround us. All of our major wars since the Mexican and Civil wars have been fought on others' soil. Those days are over. We are vulnerable. While the U.S. will prosper and be strong over the long term, we have lost our innocence. Airplanes and skyscrapers will never seem the same. Nor will the New York City skyline.
The only silver lining I can see is that these attack did not involve weapons of mass destruction (WMD, which include nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons), so far as we know. While these attacks were certainly massive, a WMD attack could kill hundreds of thousands and a biological attack could kill millions. The silver lining is that our response to this attack will likely help us prevent and defend against possible WMD attacks.
The best advice I've heard today is to find someone to hug. Do what you can to find peace, and to help others.
2. War and Hysteria
Talk of war has led to hysterical columns about World War III and politicians calling for massive vengeance. In contrast, analysis of war leads to the opposite conclusions: we should be calm, confident, and filled with sober and grim determination. Put in its historical context, this situation is not that rare, and not that bad. While each life lost is a tragedy, history's lesson is clear: we will be fine.
War is common: there have been 211 interstate wars and 160 internal wars since 1823, with about 27 in progress today.
Why is this calming? War seems rare to us because we fight our wars on other's lands, and we don't care about most wars at all. But because war is in fact frequent, this creates a huge discrepancy between our image of the world and the world as it really is. Our luxurious - but misleading - perspective on the world amplifies the shock from Tuesday.
War is vicious and there are few rules. Surprise attacks are common and declarations of war are rarely made. There is nothing new in these attacks. Think not just of Pearl Harbor, but of Germany's blitzkriegs, the North Korean invasion of the South, the Russo-Japanese war, and various Middle East wars including Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Aum Shin Rikyo was a billion dollar organization, with a weaponized helicopter, and had tested and used chemical and biological weapons in public, yet they were off the CIA's radar until they attacked the Tokyo subway.
Why is this calming? Again, perspective helps us diagnose the problem accurately, a prerequisite to proper prescription. The immediate benefit here is to avoid overreaction. Vicious surprise attacks are the way of the world. Not right, not moral, just frequent.
War's scope is wide. Women, children, and non-combatants are rarely spared. From the castrations and slavery of the ancient times to strategic bombing of World War II to ethnic cleansing, civilian innocence is a mirage. There were about seventeen million battle dead in World War II, and about thirty-eight million civilian dead. More than two civilians died for every soldier.
Why is this calming? Because we are all soldiers in this war. Our economy, our taxes, our foreign policy, our votes, our citizenship, and the symbols we represent make us soldiers.
Looked at this way, everyone who died is a hero. They are not victims of senseless random terrorist violence They are heros who symbolized our values like democracy and equal opportunity, which, when we live up to them, are the best there are. To think of this as war instead of terrorism helps create calming connections between massive death and our enduring values. It helps create purpose in the death's of our citizens.
The scale of war is often vast, and this helps us evaluate what has just happened. We may have lost five thousand or more people, a large tragedy. How large? Two one-thousands of one percent of our population. Less than one eighth of our yearly auto accident fatalities. These comparisons sound callous, yet they are comforting because they make some points plain. This is no World War III. We will recover fast. We will be fine.
Putting these attacks in the context of war is not to suggest that war is good, that other's immorality justifies our own, or that each individual loss is not extremely painful. But the shock from Tuesday is made worse by not understanding the frequency, nature, scope, and scale of war.
How should we respond to this situation? It will be hard to simply arrest the guilty. International politics often dictates that we make least-worst choices. There will almost certainly be massive uses of force.
To bring General Manuel Noriega of Panama back to the U.S. took 27,000 U.S. troops. We lost twenty-six soldiers and killed some 50-300 Panamanian soldiers and 200-1000 civilians. Panama is close to the U.S., we knew it well, and it contained a number of U.S. personnel and facilities.
This suggests we may have to pay a high blood price to capture Osama Bin Laden and others. Considering he has killed before and thus will do so again, it may be worth it. Maybe some form of assassination is the least worst option.
If we are to fight this war for many years, we will need the support of others. We must take actions we can explain to others. If we do this, we can build coalitions, institutions, and laws that will forestall the terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction.
Whatever we do, we should take a deep breath. The brutality of war is depressing. War is not a time for hysteria or excess boosterism, but a time for sober reflection and calm and grim determination. We are about to kill people. It must serve a purpose.
3. Panel Remarks
Sept 13, DeBartolo 101, University of Notre Dame
● First of all my condolences to us all, to the world at large, and especially to those who have suffered personally due to these brutal attacks.
● I am going to talk about war, and I am going to do so in a way that is sobering, but which should also induce perspective, calm and confidence. There is a lot of hysteria about 3rd world wars, nostradamus, gas lines, calls for massive retaliation, and so forth. I will show that there is no reason for hysteria. We'll be fine.
● There are lots of different kinds of terrorism and war, but for the purposes of this talk:
○ Terrorism is a minor form of war: the infliction of small amounts of pain to create a balance between pushing negotiations your way, while not alienating people completely from your cause.
○ Full scale war is also coercion, the infliction of pain, to achieve political ends, but the scale is huge, the sympathy gone. As we look at the rubble in New York and Washington, this is great pain, and this is War. In all likelihood, it is someone's aim to make us isolationist, and especially pull out of the Middle East, and to disrupt our political and general way of life.
● That said, let's look at war in perspective, its frequency, nature, scope, and scale, something that is hard to do in the heartland of formerly secure America.
○ Frequency: War is common: there have been 211 interstate wars alone since 1823, and 160 internal wars, with about 27 in progress as we speak.
- Why is this calming? Because war seems so rare to us, this seems like a huge shock. But war only SEEMS rare to us b/c we fight our wars on other's lands, we don't care about others' wars, and this creates a huge discrepancy between our image of the world and the world as it really is. This was a big attack and a big shock, but it should not be a huge shock. Our luxurious perspective on the world makes the shock larger.
○ Nature of war: War is not a gentleman's game, it is vicious. Surprise attacks are common and declarations of war are rarely made. There is nothing new in these attacks. Think not just of Pearl Harbor, but of Germany's blitzkriegs, the North Korean Invasion, the Russo-Japanese war, and various middle east wars. Aum Shin Rikyo was a billion dollar organization, with weaponized helicopters, and had tested chemical weapons in public, yet they were off the CIA's radar until the Tokyo subway attack.
- Why is this calming? Again, a proper perspective can help us diagnose the problem accurately, a prerequisite to proper prescription if there ever was one. The primary immediate benefit being to avoid overreaction. Vicious surprise attacks are the way of the world. Not right, not moral, just frequent.
○ Scope of war: Women, children, and non-combatants have rarely been spared. From the castrations and slavery of the ancient times to strategic bombing of World War II to ethnic cleansing, the idea of civilian innocence has rarely been honored. Some numbers: about 17 million battle dead in WWII, about 38 million civilian dead. IOW, more than two civilians died for every soldier.
- Why is this calming? Because we are all soldiers in this war. Our taxes, our economy, our foreign policy, our votes, our citizenship and the symbols we represent make us soldiers.
■ Looked at this way, everyone who died is in fact a hero. They are not victims of senseless random terrorist violence, they are heros who symbolized our values like democracy and equal opportunity, which, when we live up to them are the best there are.
- To think of this as war instead of terrorism, helps create calming connections between massive death and our enduring values, it helps create purpose in the death's of our citizens.
○ Scale of war: Finally, if this is war, how can we evaluate what has just happened to us? On the one hand, : we may have lost five thousand, ten thousand, or maybe more people. That's huge. On the other hand, we have lost a very tiny part of our national population and economy, specifically four 1thousands of 1% of our population if 10k died, a ¼ of our yearly auto accident fatalities. That is a poor comparison, but it makes the point plain: We'll be back, and we'll be fine.
- This is not to be callous, but to suggest again that looking at the long term and the big picture can help us remain calm and confident. On the scale of things, this is a small war, and we'll recover fast.
○ To sum up, putting these attacks in the context of war is not to suggest that war is good, that other's immorality justifies our own, or that each individual loss in not extremely painful. But I do suggest that the shock is made worse by not understanding the frequency, nature, scope, and scale of war. Putting this incident into context helps us understand that reactions from gas lines to worries of world war are NOT warranted.
○ So what should we do about it?
- It is virtually impossible to arrest the remaining attackers, and the leaders of aiding and abetting governments, and put them in jail for life without the deaths of many non-attackers. In some ways, I would prefer to do nothing. That takes supreme strength, but would make the attacks an absolute failure. I do not like revenge, and killing for revenge is NOT satisfying.
- But many attacks and/or many abductions and assassinations are what is going to happen. In fact assassinations and abductions will be a more frequent tool of USFP for decades now. I will support these too, if they are discriminate. In international politics, we often can not simply haul people off to jail, and we must make least worst choices to save lives.
- Given that the US, (and thank goodness with the help, legitimacy, and authorization added by NATO and perhaps even the UN,) will conduct attacks and kill lots of people, I hope we focus on killing people and destroying things that will slow down future terrorism. We have to step back from emotional thoughts of indiscriminate massive retaliation, and connect our own use of force for political ends. War is not a time for rah rah boosterism, but a time for sober reflection and calm and grim determination. We are about to kill people; it must serve a purpose.
- Let's make one thing perfectly clear: we can not end terrorism, nor is it true that if we kill bin Laden, he will be instantly replaced by someone equally competent. These are false all or nothing arguments, and we are prone to them at times like these. The game we will be playing is to delay and degrade terrorists and attackers. It will happen again, we just can hope to slow it down. Further, when we use military force, the results will be messy. Do not hit the war button thinking we can 'cleanly' or absolutely accomplish our goals.
- Hopefully, this whole tragedy will help us postpone the use of WMD on US soil. If a nuclear weapon is ever used we may be looking at hundreds of thousands dead, with biological weapons, perhaps into the millions.
○ Finally, our use of force will certainly inflame parts of (presumably) the Arab world. I'm rarely one for sticks alone, and we should do what we can to couple carrots with sticks and reach out and encourage moderate and mainstream Arabs, which are by far most Arabs. I for one offer my hand to all 3-4 million Arab Americans, and all Arabs and indeed to anyone who is willing to shake it.
- In terms of carrots, there are probably many things we could do but one thing I want to suggest in particular is that the US Govt, and willing universities, should set up a large fund so that qualified Arab students from as many countries as possible could come to US and get a free education, all expenses paid. Start the program small, but enlarge it as possible.
○ Why is this a good thing to do? In the end, our greatest weapon is in fact our values and our way of life. We'll be fine.