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October 25, 2005

Osama bin Laden was right

How's that for a catchy title?

Nobody is wrong about everything, and Osama bin Laden happens to be correct about a number of things. He is absolutely correct, for example, in his view that Western values pose a threat to his culture. Of course, his culture happens to be one of repression, where all bow before the One True God or face consequences most dire. The Islamists fear that the insidious seepage of Western culture will eventually crack their defenses and cause their regimes of intolerance to crumble, and on this they are one hundred percent right.

It's good that Osama is right about this. It's good that there exists a force on the planet which is a serious danger to the death cult that rages in North Africa and South Asia. But there are other things that Osama is right about, and that's not so good.

For example, it's been widely repeated that Osama formed his impression of American will from the debacle in Somalia. A handful of casualties was all that it took for the mighty United States military to turn tail and flee. This impression was undoubtedly reinforced by the campaign in the Balkans, where the United States (with a meager handful of allies and without United Nations sanction) fought a campaign whose obvious top primary strategic goal was the minimization of civilian casualties. The sole weapons used by the NATO forces were cruise missiles and high-altitude bombers, resulting in higher-than-necessary munitions expenditures, infrastructure damage, and noncombatant causalties, all to avoid placing American soldiers in harm's way. Bin Laden and his allies interpreted this to signify a substantial fear of friendly casualties. Americans, they concluded, had a glass jaw. Strike them hard and they will retreat.

I scoffed. I figured Americans were a lot tougher than he gave us credit for. I was certain that when the chips were down, we'd dig in and hold on tight. But I was wrong, and Osama was right.

Back in August, I was in downtown Seattle, and I was a flyer advertising an International A.N.S.W.E.R. rally to take place in September. The flyer proudly stated that "by then, 2,000 American soldiers will have been killed in Iraq." Oh, how disappointed they must have been when that magic number was not in fact reached in time for their big event. But we've been creeping ever closer to it, and the growing anticipation on the left forms a palpable miasma in the air, a stench of excitement and enthusiasm that feels so vary, very wrong, like people cheering a rape. Now that the fatality rate has reached 1,999, the anticipation has reached a frenzied fever pitch. Only one more body bag, and the party can begin! (Update: since I started writing this article, Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander, Jr, died of wounds sustained from an IED explosion. Rest well, Sgt. Alexander. I imagine that if anybody had told you before you died that your body bag would used as a soapbox for those who oppose your mission you'd have been appalled, but may you rest in peace anyway.)

Thanks to very loud opponents of the war trumpeting the casualties and their allies in the media, a depressingly large proportion of Americans see the war as a disaster. It's not.

Back in March, I demonstrated this with a graph comparing the fatality rate in Iraq with that of other American military conflicts. But alas, the sense of perspective still hasn't developed.

Case in point: Western Washington University Professor Emeritus of Sociology Ed Stephan. Stephan prominently displays the following graph:

Usfatalities

Never mind the heapin' helpin' of propaganda included in the graph (with helpful imagemap links)... once upon a time I would have expressed shock that a college professor was ignorant of the fact that a line graph of a single accumulating quantity is pretty much useless for any sort of analysis, but given the state of higher education today and the willingness of academics to eschew scholarship in favor of polemic I can't say that I'm in the least surprised. This graph lacks context. Let's give it some. Here's a cumulative graph of Iraq war fatalities compared to some other causes of death:

Fatalities2_1

(Estimated based on 2000 values from the CDC.)

Well, shoot, that's no good. You can't hardly see the line for Iraq, buried at the bottom as it is. Let's try comparing Iraq to some more esoteric causes of death:

Fatalities3

At least there you can see the bar for Iraq, although it's still well below some pretty rare means of casualty. (Data courtesy of the National Safety Council.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: there do exist reasons to oppose this war, and reasonable people can find these reasons convincing. But the fatality rate is not one of these reasons. In terms of bloodshed, this war has been astonishingly pain-free. If the war deserves opposition, one fatality would be too many... but if the war is not otherwise objectionable the fatality rate is no reason to oppose it. And those who attempt to make it one, like Professor Stephen, are cheapening the sacrifice of America's soldiers by standing on their corpses to make a political point.

And, not incidentally, proving Osama bin Laden's point that Americans have no stomach for conflict and are unwilling to pay any price in blood for any cause, no matter how just.

Update: Welcome viewers from the Watcher of Weasels, and many thanks to whoever nominated this post.

October 25, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink

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