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.

2 thoughts on “Discomfort and disbelief with 9/11 coverage

  1. Semi-related. I caught about 2 minutes of the most recent GOP debate, the segment was a rather quick and heated exchange between Congressman Ron Paul & Governor Rick Perry. I couldn’t tell you the question being responded to. Paul commented about how Americans were not completely innocent in bringing about the circumstances that led to 9/11, citing over-aggressive and hegemonic foreign and military policy and inciting boos from the gallery while appearing to make perfectly logical statements.

    Gov. Perry abruptly interrupted Paul mid-statement to declare that the only thing America did wrong leading up to the event was to “love freedom.” He elaborated, presenting a short list of reasons for why the terrorists hate us. Listing among others, our love for freedom and democracy and our natural inclination to oppose tyranny or some other.

    I agree that the obvious bias cited in the article (i haven’t seen the whole piece) is frustrating. It was important that the administration addressed all possible security concerns related to or stemming from 9/11, including Iraq, though admittedly I have a hard time understanding how Iraq was a bigger threat than Iran, Syria, Libya or Sudan another story for another day perhaps. And the figures are most definitely intentionally skewed to paint Iraq as the “pre-emptive war.”

    The situation in Iraq probably should have been dealt with before 9/11 and IMHO was merely reassured afterwards. You’re right that people need to get over it. More concerning to me than this, however, is the apparent outright denial by a segment of the population to recognize any sense of cause & effect in regards to 9/11. Do that many people still think this country was totally innocent in the big, grand scheme of things? Does it seem, I don’t know, immature(?) for a presidential candidate, a possible future Commander and Chief, to publicly claim that 9/11 happened because “they hate us because we are free.”? I don’t think the world is that simple.

    • Unfortunately, I avoid watching presidential debates a full six months before the actual primary season even starts. It just seems like it never stops anymore. So I’ll address some of your points without delving into the Paul-Perry sparring.

      Since World War II, America has made difficult decisions as a world leader, and has taken whatever actions have been necessary to protect allies, national interests, and national security. Not all of those actions have been nice and tidy (e.g. Shah of Iran, backing Hussein in his war with Iran). You make allies where you find them. Enemy of my enemy is my friend (e.g. supporting mujahadeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan). Sooner or later you’re going to piss off somebody.

      But I don’t look at 9-11 from that perspective. I think it’s a bit naive to think the attacks were some kind of response to Amercian “hegemony”. Bin Laden and his group weren’t trying to avenge any particular wrong. Supposedly, bin Laden’s goal was retribution for American forces being stationed in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. But we were there at the request of the Saudis to thwart the renegade regime of Hussein; we didn’t kick in the front door! (Of course, protecting the flow of oil from the Saudis – a legitimate national security issue – was also in our interests.)

      No, al Queda was simply looking for another “Great Satan” to take on – just like the Soviets in Afghanistan – that would promote their geopolitical aims throughout the Middle East. Bin Laden wanted us bogged down in Afghanistan to beat us there and break our influence in the Middle East. Had they beaten us, there would have been no stopping them. And we would be looking at developments in the Middle East much, much worse than an Arab Spring.

      To assign some higher purpose to the attacks other than terror and provocation would be naive, I think. So although I might not totally agree with Perry, I don’t think he’s that far off in his thinking on why it happened.

      P.S. Have you ever considered the success of the Bush Administration’s policy of pushing democracy in the Middle East (i.e. elections in Iraq and Afghanistan) in connection with the Arab Spring uprisings against totalitarian regimes?

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