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We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever…we absorbed it and we are stronger.”
The essence of the differences between the European and American view of terrorism is the deeply felt, but often unstated opinion on the Continent that terrorism is normal and that it would be a mistake to over-react to it. In the United States, terrorism cuts very, very deeply into our national psyche. But in Europe, its often just one of those things. After all, Europe has seen a lot worse than the relatively naive American public has ever had to witness. The last serious bloodshed on American soil came in the Civil War.
The Pearl Harbor and 9-11 attacks stand out as landmarks in our history precisely because we have shed so little American blood with the boundaries of the United States. Britain lost 50,000 people in the blitz during World War II. France lost about one-quarter of its military age men in World War I. Germany saw seven million die in World War II (not counting the German Jews the Nazis killed). Next to these horrific casualties, 2400 dead at Pearl Harbor and 3,000 lost on 9-11 pale by comparison.
Basically, Europeans say to America “get over it. Grow up. Welcome to reality.” But Americans refuse to accept the idea that random death and massive violence are inevitable concomitants of the modern world. We demand that government emphatically reject this as a norm and move heaven and earth to stop it from happening. The President of the United State is supposed to reflect American views and priorities, but he so clearly indicated how the European view shapes his thinking in the Woodward interview.
The practical consequences of such an outlook are profoundly disturbing. Obama told Woodward that “we’ll do everything we can to prevent” another 9/11, but his confidence that we could “absorb” an attack, clearly implies that he won’t. If preventing an attack on the scale of 9/11 or greater is the absolute priority it was for George W. Bush, we will indeed do “everything we can” to stop it. But if it is something we can “absorb” preventing an attack is but one of a number of competing priorities.
The Obama worldview also demands that we avoid racial profiling, protect the civil liberties even of non-citizens who are not in the country, and limit interrogation techniques well short of torture. If a president has a basic confidence that 9/11 could be “absorbed”, these competing priorities are likely to loom large in his thinking and attenuate his efforts.
His comments also indicate a total lack of realization of the escalating nature of terror attacks. In 1993, we lost a few people when terrorists hit the Trade Center. By 2001, they had refined their techniques and demolished the buildings and killed 3,000. The next attack is not likely to be “another 9/11.” It is far more probable that it would be a dirty bomb or even a nuclear device or some other weapon of mass destruction, dwarfing the casualties of 9/11.
These things escalate. And, unless we realize that they do, we are not likely to really do all we can to stop it. If the stakes are the total obliteration of New York City, we will obviously do more to stop the attack than if they are “merely” another 9/11. And Obama’s view that the threat we face is of the order of magnitude of 9/11 indicates a blindness to the danger we face. Finally, the Obama comments indicate a cold and inhuman view of the likelihood of 3,000 new deaths.
He says we can “absorb” such mayhem. Can the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands and children of the dead “absorb” the attack as easily? Obama’s comments remind one of the notion of acceptable casualties in warfare. This is World War I thinking at its worst. Americans do not count on “absorbing” an attack of this magnitude. We see it as a unique horror to be avoided at all costs.
But Obama, like Mao calculating how many Chinese he could afford to lose in a nuclear exchange, seems to focus on how much we can “absorb” as a nation. This is chilling stuff indeed.
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