It used to be easy to tell the enemy. All you had to do was to check their uniforms and nationality. But after 9/11 it became a lot more difficult. We started fighting a war against an attitude and a concept instead of a country. How do you invade terror? if the identifying mark of a terrorist is hatred of America how can you tell when you’ve won? Who signs the surrender papers?
Of course, we did have some experience in this. We had already declared war on all sorts of things: cancer, drugs, pants slung too low on the hips – none of which had borders, a government or tanks.
Our metaphors had already spun out of control.
And few counted the bodies.
For example, prior to the World Trade Center attack, Al Qaeda was reported to have killed something less than 500 people. Another 3,000 were killed on 9/11. To retaliate it has so far cost us about 4,000 dead troops in Iraq and another 700 in Afghanistan.
Of course there have been others involved, such as innocent Iraqis and Afghans. The estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range from around 100,000 (based only on those deaths reported in the media) to the medical journal Lancet’s 2006 estimate of 600,000 and the one million listed by Opinion Research in 2007. The civilian Afghan tally is far more modest – somewhere around 8,000 – but still more than double the number killed in 2001.
Dylan Thomas noted, “After the first death there is no other.” But how can we become so incensed at the deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans and yet feel justified in taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people who just happened to be in our way as we futilely sought out bin Ladin and his small band of guerillas?
How can we not even question it? Or not mention it in the media?
And now it’s gotten worse. Wall Street the victim has turned into Wall Street the perp.
According to the director of the World Health Organization some 200,000-400,000 women and children can be expected to die each year as a result of the fiscal collapse. And UN officials have added another hundred million to the ranks of the global hungry due to the crisis.
In other words, Wall Street will kill a hundred times as many women and children as were killed when it came under attack and it hardly makes the news.
We are infuriated by Bernie Madoff for stealing from the rich, but pay virtually no attention to what is going on to ordinary citizens around the world as a result of conventional fiscal greed of the past few decades.
We may assume that, unlike bin Laden or Richard Cheney, the traders and manipulators acted without malice aforethought. They were, after all, only thinking only of themselves.
But if they had been driving a car instead of trading a derivative, it would be a criminal offense called negligent manslaughter. We don’t have such a crime in markets or politics.
And so the president listens to fiscal advisers who are treated as wise men rather than as fiscal terrorists and the media respectfully quotes them with not one sign that they were among those who helped Wall Street do to the world what Bernie Madoff did to his clients and in a far more deadly fashion than even bin Laden.
Meanwhile a malevolent man who thought he could bring America down by attacking Wall Street sits somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan, watching as his intended victim do his work for him.