Analogy of the War on Terror

Today is September 11. The day is significant not just for the terrorist attack that occurred but the counter-terrorism effort it begat. I’ve never before expressed my opinion on this wider “War on Terror” and have hitherto confined my commentary to specific pieces of it. But I think it’s time we try to understand the War on Terror as a whole, and I think the best way to do that is through an analogy.

Think of terrorism as a disease like gangrene. Imagine that the president learns of an outbreak of gangrene in New York City. He orders doctors to round up people who have discolored toes and amputate their feet. However, the doctors sometimes guess wrongly and amputate the feet of non-infected people.

Later, it turns out that not only did the doctors amputate many healthy people, but that they did not wash their knives, and have given gangrene to people who did not previously have it. To correct this, the president orders a second round of amputations, but somehow the doctors forget to wash the knives, so the problem reoccurs and gangrene continues to spread.

Doctors learn that gangrene may be caused by diabetes and long-term smoking, and that efforts to prevent these maladies will diminish the likelihood of future gangrene outbreaks. The president dismisses these explanations as “blame-the-patient” propaganda and declares that gangrene is in reality caused by other-worldly demons. He said there is no way for an earthly being to reason with the demons or control them in any way other than to amputate the limbs they inhabit.

Back to the real world now. My position on terrorism is that the government will have to put some people in prison and may even have to kill some people, just like in our example in which some people really do need amputations. However, the government has killed a lot of people with nothing to do with terrorism, just like our doctors amputated the limbs of uninfected people.

Secondly, much of the terrorism since 9/11 has come as a result of US counter-terrorism and would not have occurred without it. The Fort Hood Shooter is just one of many people who became a murderer because of counter-terrorism operations, just like the patients in our example who became infected only after the first round of amputations.

Lastly, the real president of the US (George W. Bush for most of this War) really did say things about terrorism as stupid as those in our example, where the fictitious president blames the disease on supernatural forces. And just like in our analogy, efforts to understand the disease were dismissed in real-life as “blame-America-first.”

How can we expect to cure a disease when we’re not even interested in its causes?

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5 Responses to “Analogy of the War on Terror”

  1. Sylvia Olson Says:

    Hey, Andy,

    I thought your analogy was excellent! The points you made need to be voiced more often, and the use of the analogy was a clever way of showing how ridiculous the official U.S. thinking and policy have been.

    I was less impressed with the links to “nothing to do with terrorism” and “without it,” mostly because they are pretty old and people might think they no longer apply. I didn’t find the “stupid” link particularly helpful, either, because I didn’t think it showed Bush at anywhere close to his most stupid, and I didn’t see anything in that speech that approached blaming terrorism on supernatural forces.

    Will you be exploring the causes of terrorism in a future essay? I would love to see you do that.

    I don’t know if you are on the LP mailing list or not — we seem to have been added lately for some reason — but I thought the message we received from them this morning was quite good and appropriate to the topic, so I’ll paste it below:

    Libertarian U.S. Senate Candidate and Airline Pilot Makes Statement on Ninth Anniversary of 9/11

    ATLANTA, GA – Chuck Donovan, candidate for U.S. Senator from the state of Georgia, issued the following statement on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001:

    “Like most Americans, I took the attacks of 9/11 very hard. As a professional pilot, I took them personally. We pilots had been trained with a plan to deal with hijackers, a plan we were told included team members outside of our cockpits. September 11, 2001 showed us we were disarmed and alone.

    “Nine years later, we Americans are more and more restricted from using the tools of self-defense. Far too often and in far too many ways, we find ourselves helplessly at the mercy of a government we cannot rely on.

    “The government’s reaction to 9/11 was to energetically use its two favorite tactics: to expand power at the expense of our liberty, and to spend lots more money. Neither the poorly named “Patriot Act” nor the new Department of Homeland Security held anyone in government responsible for their failures that day. They also failed to effectively deal with the clearly exposed lack of inter-agency coordination.

    “Today all we have to show for the huge investment is a bigger, more bloated government that finds it impossible to protect us from someone like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, better known as the “underwear bomber.” All the layers of bureaucracy were unable to take clear information on a known threat and act upon it. Our government makes a show of security, forcing experienced flight crew wearing layers of identification, to take off their shoes and belts, open their suitcases, or to wait at the border on return from international flights, yet someone like Abdulmutallab easily slips through the system.

    “Our Federal government can only be relied upon to posture as a kind of Robocop. In reality, it is more like the Keystone Cops.

    “The one small success on that terrible day 9 years ago was when free people on board United Airlines Flight 93 voluntarily joined together and resisted a deadly threat. Years later, it was free people once again, who stopped Abdulmutallab without the help of government.

    “Today the threat of an overreaching, overspending government, using its authority to arrogantly step into every aspect of our lives, has finally become clear to many Americans. Benjamin Franklin warned us, ‘Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ Yet too many Americans remain unconvinced. If we fail to heed Franklin’s warning, we will soon find ourselves without liberty or security.”

    Chuck Donovan is an international airline Captain who has over 30 years of experience as a professional and military pilot.

  2. Andy Hallman Says:

    Thank you, Sylvia.

    The link for “stupid” does not mention his supernatural beliefs, but rather his belief that terrorists hate freedom. That was a long speech, and I probably should have just provided a few lines of it, some of which were:

    Bush: Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what they see right here in this chamber — a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.

    For Bush’s supernatural beliefs, see his farewell address, when he remarked:

    Bush: I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise.

    I don’t think of good and evil as scientifically valid terms, at least not in the way Bush is using them. It seems like Bush is talking about good and evil as opposing forces, like they are talked about in the Book of Revelation.

  3. Mark @ Israel Says:

    Sometimes, everything that happened in the historical perspective is born out of biased interpretations. The FBI would define terrorism as an act against the government and its constituents. But what if the government uses terrorism to advance its selfish political motives? Will the government kill its employees or put them into prison to avoid terroristic activities to take place? The 9/11 attack is not born out of an active U.S. counter terrorrism but an act for the U.S. to realize that even the highly hailed country by its power has an Achilles’ heel. How can we solve the problem of terrorism in this case base on your suggestions?

  4. Andy Hallman Says:

    How can we solve the problem of terrorism in this case base on your suggestions?

    A good place to start would be to stop doing things likely to increase it, such as invasions and occupations of foreign countries.

    I think it’s worth pointing out, and I tried to do this in the post, that counter-terrorism can produce just as much suffering as the terrorism it’s trying to prevent, and I think that is the case in the “War on Terror.” If the US had done absolutely nothing after 9/11, you could argue that a few more terrorist incidents would have occurred somewhere in the world, but you really can’t argue that nearly a million Iraqis would have been killed and several million more displaced from their homes.

  5. Pedro Paulo Bastos Says:

    I’m against any muder, but in favor of the defense of the State – in other words, the country. The U.S. overreacted before the terrorist attacks and transformed the legal protection of its territory into a killing field with no limits. A killing field where is supposed to defend not only the terrorist attacks, but its economic supremacy, too. It’s very sad this wonderful country keeps on acting in such a stupid way.
    Btw, I’m Pedro, from Brazil, 21 years old. I was looking for some interesting blog in English to read and I found a great spot to discuss much of my study area – Public Administration.
    That’s really good. Congrats!

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