Discomfort and disbelief with 9/11 coverage

I had considered writing a personal 9-11 perspective for this past weekend’s remembrances, but felt it would have been an inappropriate self-indulgence.  So many others were more directly and frightfully affected by the events of that day, to add my own personal noise to the remembrances of survivors and those who lost friends and family members seemed superfluous.

However, after reading much of what was published Sunday in The Philadelphia Inquirer, I became sufficiently motivated to address what I consider the wayward perspectives on what has happened since that day in this country and in its responses to those attacks. 

The Inqy’s coverage of such an emotional event was quite detailed, complete, and somber.  It’s certainly not easy to strike the right balance when trying to accurately portray such a huge, complicated picture.  This is especially true when trying to put into perspective the hard data (costs in blood and treasure) along with the social, psychological, and emotional toll of such an event.  Maybe the smart thing would have been to treat this data separately, perhaps at another time even.  And yet – I’m sure – many people would have complained had not “the other half” of this story been presented on such a momentous anniversary.  

For instance,  The Inqy ran two charts in its paper edition on Sunday, describing both The Human Toll and The Financial Toll since the 9/11 attacks.  I thought it an unfortunate juxtaposition, having both of these displayed together.  (I would link them here, if I could find them on the philly.com site.  After two days of searching, I have given up.) 

Several data points caught my attention.

  • The Financial Toll of 9/11 was split between War Costs and Security Costs.  Among the latter category (Totaling $819 billion) was included $100 billion for the “Cost of delay to passengers for airport screening”! 

After seeing that, I was interested in how that was calculated and searched for the source from which the numbers came.  What I found was a study performed for an financial-based risk-assessment/benefit analysis by two professors analyzing the costs of preventing terrorist attacks vs. the actual risk of loss from such attacks.  The authors attempt to equate the value or benefit of prevention to a number of successful attacks needed to reach a so-called break-even point.

I was - almost immediately – sorry I dove into the deep end of this pool.  My problem being that one must be able to put a price tag on the value of a life.  And although this is something that’s certainly done in instances such as the cost and design of highway/auto safety features or in analyzing the costs of environmental protection measures; it’s still a nasty concept with which to deal.  

In this case, it’s a lose-lose situation, even if you’re able to get past the human element of the equation.  The psychological effects of massive casualty events puts an equation-type approach in evaluating responses to such attacks well beyond the realm of acceptability. 

For example, one conclusion made by the authors was that it would require 1667 Times Square-type attacks (i.e. like the one thwarted by poor design this past New Years Eve) to reach the break-even point of security measures needed to prevent any such attacks.  I doubt we could get to the point – psychologically – where, if one such attack was successful, that even two such events would be acceptable. 

You just have to wonder whether the likes of an Osama bin Laden understood that concept to the extent that it did not matter - to him anyway – what might happen to himself or to his organization.  They would win either way.  

It’s not a comforting thought.  But it’s not like we, as a nation that cherishes its domestic freedoms, would have the choice to consider the alternatives of such cost-benefit analyses either.

(I never did find an explanation of how they calculated the cost a traveler incurs waiting for a security screening, as opposed to the coast of being vaporized as a passenger on an 175 ton missile.  I guess I’d have to buy the book to find out, but that’s not going to happen.)

  • The Human Toll of 9/11 included U.S. and Iraqi military casualties, the civilian losses on 9/11, and a section on Iraqi civilian deaths, estimated to be 125,000.  The fine print attributed the Iraqi casualty estimate to a professor working on the Costs of War project at Boston University.  It attributed an estimated 15% of those Iraqi deaths to American and Iraqi military operations; the rest to sectarian violence, insurgent assassinations, and other criminal acts.

It was as early as 2006 that Iraqi War protestors were claiming upwards of 600,000 civilian Iraqi deaths as the result of the war.  Supposedly, these estimates were gleaned by surveys conducted on less than 2,000 Iraqi households and were then extrapolated for the entire war-ravaged country.

I never bought that methodology.  It was just too difficult to balance the claims of such widespread and willful violence and death in an almost lawless environment with what I imagined were census-type surveyors going door-to-door in Baghdad.  Even the margin-of-error (426,369 to 793,663 deaths) was over three times the figure now claimed in The Inqy chart!

I also found it odd that there was no information provided on estimated Afghanistan civilian deaths.  If your intent is to present “the whole picture”, it’s difficult to get past this glaring omission.

In another area of Sunday Inqy Karen Heller, a regular contributor, provided her perspective on that day in Forgetting isn’t possible.  One segment drew my attention.  

Everything about that morning, and almost all that came after, was characterized by speed: the planes crashing, the buildings falling, the deaths mounting, the rush to a wrongheaded costly war.

Now Ms. Heller and I rarely agree.  She being quite to left of me in her opinions and writings.  And my first take on this statement was that she was speaking about Iraq, not Afghanistan.  On the other hand, her piece was presented as a reflection on the events of 9-11 and the developments that resulted from the events of that day.  Yet she never once mentions Afghanistan; but does make mention of Saddam Hussein and even Niger yellowcake.  

So I’m left to wonder whether the “rush to a wrongheaded war” is an oblique reference to Afghanistan that coyly attempts to seek cover from the later - more deliberate – decision to overthrow Hussein.  Or was she unwilling to concede that Afghanistan was a “rightheaded war”, and so glosses over that episode in order to stick to the Liberal storyline. 

I suspect that latter, since I cannot fathom one suggesting after 9-11 that invading Afghanistan wasn’t “rightheaded”.  Then again, there is that storyline …

Finally on Sunday, a Letter to the Editor in the Currents section (no link still available) relates how the writer called his mother on 9-11 to check on her, and in their conversation compares the events of the day to Pearl Harbor.  Mom rather pointedly declares that the attacks were nothing like the 1941 attack that kicked off World War II.  She claims the 9-11 attacks were the result of America’s years of bullying other countries.  He concludes after ten years that he agrees with her, ” … as he watches America … launching one preemptive war after another.”

Sentiments like these are difficult to accept, given how ignorant the logic is. 

Bin Laden’s so-called justification for the 9-11 attacks was the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, as they protected Islam’s holiest lands from the invasion threat posed by Saddam Hussein, who had just crushed the Kuwaiti armed forces.  This son should be prohibited from further editorials until he lists the multiple preemptive wars we have launched since 9/11. 

But I know of only two wars initiated by the U.S. since 9/11.  One was reactive, one preemptive.  Am I missing a few wars?!?  Even the “preemptive” war on Iraq was preceded by a decade of U.N. pronouncements and Congressional resolutions under the Clinton Administration declaring Hussein a lethal threat to his regional neighbors, the international community, and national security!

It boggles my mind the extent to which people cannot – or simply will not – admit who the aggressor was that day; why they attacked us; or that our response had to go beyond flushing out and punishing the cowards who perpetrated 9/11 and were responsible for everything that followed. 

 What’s really, really disturbing is that I’m not at all surprised that they still don’t get it.

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Friday musings …

  • The pictures and stories out of the Pacific Rim this morning are both frightening and awe-inspiring.  Nature in its most primal form is downright overwhelming.  Hopefully the people of Japan, familiar with and prepared for deep earth violence, will not suffer huge losses; will get all the necessary assistance they will need from the international community; and will bounce back quickly. 
  • Been checking in with my brother, who lives in Long Beach, CA, on the progress of the tsunami.  Was a bit apoplectic when he texted me saying he was sitting in the parking lot of the marina!  Fortunately at the time he had a few hours to kill before the lot might become a lake.      
  • Made The Philadelphia Inquirer Letters to the Editor on Wednesday with a message about Lincoln’s struggle with slavery.  Always nice to see one’s name in print!
  • Courtesy of Kim, who e-mailed me on the above letter … If you haven’t discovered The New York Times series Disunion, a day-by-day accounting of the news and reportings on The Civil War and the months building to Fort Sumter, you should check it out.  Any history nut would LOVE this retrospective.  I just started trying to catchup with the series that started in October, and already I’m hopelessly hooked!
  • Another neat website, stumbled upon via the NYT Disunion series, is this for the Architect of the Capitol.  The site provides virtual tours of D.C. buildings, a commemoration of Lincoln, and education on the National Hall’s collection of statuary.
  • The crocuses are popping through the chilly soil and our Phillies tickets arrived in the mail!  Spring must be right around the corner!!
  • My oldest son, a Millersville University student, sent me a Facebook message in semi-jest that he was going to bill his mother and me for the added costs on his future tuition because we supported Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania’s new governor, who announced significant reduction in education subsidies for the next state budget cycle.  Of course being the good liberal my son is, he neglected to mention that the only reason his recent college costs had been mitigated is the fact that education in the state had been subsidized by the stimulus packages granted by the federal government.  Since that financing is no longer available, Pennsylvania education subsidies are simply returning to 2008 levels.  My no-jest response was that he could deduct the costs from his drum corps bill, which was in the thousands for the three years he competed. 
  • By the way, he’s currently vacationing in Punta Cana.  And I’m sitting here … in chilly, wet Pennsylvania! 
  • After my recent rant about my inability to enjoy no boundaries, no limits jazz, I found it quite possible to enjoy Yusef Lateef’s album, Eastern Sounds.  Of course it did have a bit more in structure and boundaries than did Wynston Marsalis.

Was slavery the only issue in U.S. Civil War?

The following was written as a letter to the editors at The Philadelphia Inquirer in response to several letters (See fifth letter down.) in the past week or so protesting commemorations of The Civil War as “glorifications” of slavery (i.e. commemorations in the southern U.S.).

I really do not understand all the sudden angst over observances related to the American Civil War.  I do not understand the insistence on framing the war totally within the context of slavery.  Anyone, who has taken the time to study the development of the American experiment through the 18th and 19th centuries and the origins of the hostilities that broke out in 1861, recognizes that slavery was not the only issue that defined the war.   

The American republic had many more issues before it than the horrors of slavery.  The questions of states rights, the strength of a centralized federal government, the interests of agrarian vs. industrialized economies, even the success of a Lincoln-led administration were all factors of immense national interest at stake.  As such, both the North and the South had legitimate vital interests in the conflict that went beyond the insidious practice of slavery. 

Slavery as the only issue related to the war does not explain Lincoln’s own admission that he would have resolved the conflict – if he could – without freeing a single slave.  It also does not account for the fact that hundreds of thousands of poor, non-slave owning Southerners fought willingly against the overwhelming advantages of the North.  The fact is that hundreds of thousands died in that war with no stake on the issue of slavery.  Many of them unemployed immigrants fighting for the North just for money to survive in a new world. 

There is no reason to restrict “glorification” of a preeminent event in American history solely to the issue of slavery.  To do so dismisses so much more that can be learned about how the United States stayed a united nation and the experiment continued on its epic journey.  

Mike —-

 All the angst seems motivated by the fact that the wrong people – Southerners – might want to commemorate an event that was also crucial to the history and development of that region.  Not to mention the fact that hundreds of thousands died there also, many of them dirt-poor farmers who did not own and could not afford slaves.

This is so much more about Liberal guilt over American history than it is any attempt to put that event into its proper historical context.