(Logic) English 2 – Critical Thinking and Writing (Spring 2007)
Was America’s reaction to 9/11 justified?
[Students and professors, please read.]
Was America’s reaction to 9/11 justified?
We all remember where we were when we found out two planes were used as missiles to bomb the twin towers of the World Trade Center, when another plane was used to bomb the Pentagon, and when another plane crash-landed before the terrorists who hijacked it could fly it into its target on September 11, 2001. I was informed by a phone call from my mother-in-law, who told me to turn on the TV. I cried.
Like many other Americans, I stayed glued to the TV, wanting to know all about who had done this and why, wanting to know the extent of the damage and if the threat was over, to know how we as a nation would react to the enemy, to witness the heroic search-and-rescue missions, the stories of last calls home and those who helped each other survive. If I hadn’t been a stay-at-home mother of two, I would have joined the military, as many were inspired to do.
The media spoke of “waking the sleeping giant” and people actually spoke openly on-air about spiritual things. People formerly apathetic about the U.S., including myself, found themselves feeling a sense of patriotism, appreciation for their home country – whole neighborhoods erected American flags. My husband was a military police officer on Ft. Huachuca in Arizona, which meant he had to work over-time to meet the demands of a heightened threat level. We began to send troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda and hunt for Bin Laden, declaring an all-out “War on Terror”. Everything changed irreversibly in what is now called “The Post-9/11 Era”.
However, Clark R. Chapman and Alan R. Harris, the authors of “A Skeptical Look at September 11th” would have us believe this was all unjustified over-reaction. They would have us believe the attacks on September 11th were less significant than the sum of automobile accident fatalities per day in the U.S., and that we should not have had the emotional reaction that we did. They believe our emotions clouded our response, particularly the solutions we sought, and that we should have focused our resources on solving the more fatal problem of daily automobile accidents, with less of our resources going to preventing 9/11 from happening again, to preventing America from turning into one of those countries in a constant state of shell-shock, where the phrase “surprise bombings” (like the ones on 9/11) has lost impact due to having become a part of daily life.
To support their conclusion that America’s reaction to 9/11 was an unjustified over-reaction, the authors present an incomplete list of possible reasons for what they call a “huge reaction” – the large number of lives that were lost on American soil, and the malice of the perpetrators – and they counter with why this incomplete list of reasons do not justify the reaction. Perhaps they should have argued that America’s reaction was an unexplainable anomaly. Instead, they argue that we did not have a “huge reaction” when 20,000 died in an earthquake in Gujarat, India in 2001, or when more people died in automobile accidents daily on American soil than died in the 9/11 attacks, or in response to the malice present in the 15,000 homicides that occur every year in the U.S. – and so we should not have had a huge reaction to 9/11. The analogies given are false because 9/11 was not a natural disaster, accident, or crime for which we have already done everything we know to prevent. Terrorism on American soil of the magnitude that occurred on 9/11 is a new problem for which we are called upon to find new solutions practically from scratch, which demands much time, effort, and money – suddenly.
The authors also try to argue that if our reaction can be explained by the number of lives lost, then it would have diminished (and we would have “breathed a sigh of relief”) when we found out the actual number was lower, whereas Donald Rumsfeld ignored the lower number and held to the higher number. First, the lower number was still high (whether or not “sheer numbers” is the sole or a contributing cause of the reaction), second, many people breathed many sighs of relief when survivors were found, and third — since when does Donald Rumsfeld’s mistake, or any one American’s reaction, represent all Americans (fallacy of distribution)? Never once do they quote an actual American explaining their individual reaction. In fact, there were mixed reactions. I remember some African Americans saying the “War on Terror” was not theirs. Some wanted to round up all the “rag heads”. Others just went about their life as if nothing happened. Some thought America “had it comin’ to us” on account of our foreign policy. Some left town to help clean up the collapsed Twin Towers. I never saw anyone have a “huge reaction” of near panic.
Then the authors explain what they mean by “huge reaction”: the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the heightened security, the tracking down of terrorists, the bailing out of airlines (whose operations are essential to the economy) from disaster, the Congress’ refocused attention, the National Guard patrolling airports, time-consuming airport security measures, and they enlist our support by Jedi-mind-tricking us into imagining other examples. They resort to horselaugh, speaking for elderly ladies, suggesting the random luggage searches annoy them. If my luggage were searched, I would feel safe and that the airline was doing its job to protect me from flying on a missile. I personally have no problem with those measures, and would be concerned if we had done anything less. How are those measures not rationally, directly, effectively, and relevantly related to results, as the authors imply? How are any of them marginal, as they claim in their conclusion? They offer no real reasons for why the measures already taken are inferior to more rational straw men alternatives, straw men because they do not propose any (besides solving the auto-accident problem instead, a solution evaluated further down), to our “huge reaction”.
They return, out of sequence, to another possible cause of our “huge reaction”: its terrorist nature, and the media repeatedly showing the film of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers, and their subsequent collapse. This explanation could have been used to complete their incomplete list given earlier. They reiterate that, whatever the cause, ours was an inconsistent over-reaction compared to our reaction to the loss from automobile accidents. Again, this is a false analogy because 9/11 was no accident for which we have done all we could to prevent. They suggest solving the auto-accident problem (their only example of a “more rational alternative”), but their concern is not convincing, considering they are only using the auto-accident problem as an analogy – a false one which only demonstrates that there is something, I won’t speculate as to what exactly, preventing them from seeing as only reasonable what were appropriate reactions to the unexpected, deliberately planned, unprecedented tragedy that was and is 9/11.
In sum, Chapman and Harris offer no real reasons for why the solutions we sought post-9/11 were a counterproductive “huge reaction” without cause. The only arguments in “A Skeptical Look at September 11th” are false analogies, straw men and the fallacy of distribution.