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How Many Innocent People Will Die for the Illusion of American Safety?

Every year we kill thousands of innocent people. Does that seem reasonable? Does that seem right? Is your supposed safety worth that?

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All this, of course, was compounded by the fact that the Bush administration couldn't have cared less about al-Qaeda at the time. The "Defense Department" imagined its job to be "power projection" abroad, not protecting American shores (or air space), and our 16 intelligence agencies were in chaos.

So those towers came down apocalyptically and it was horrible -- and we couldn't live with it. In response, we invaded a country ("no safe havens for terrorists"), rather than simply going after the group that had acted against us. In the process, the Bush administration went to extreme efforts to fetishize our own safety and security (and while they were at it, in part through the new Department of Homeland Security, they turned "security" into a lucrative endeavor).

Of course, elsewhere people have lived through remarkable paroxysms of violence and terror without the sort of fuss and fear this nation exhibited -- or the money-grubbing and money-making that went with it. If you want to be reminded of just how fetishistic our focus on our own safety was, consider a 2005 news article written for a Florida newspaper, "Weeki Wachee mermaids in terrorists' cross hairs?" It began:

 

"Who on earth would ever want to harm the Weeki Wachee mermaids? It staggers the imagination. Still, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has named Weeki Wachee Springs as the potential terror target of Hernando County, according to a theme park official.

"The Weeki Wachee staff is teaming up with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office to 'harden the target' by keeping the mermaid theater and the rest of the park safe from a potential terror attack, said marketing and promotion manager John Athanason... Terror-prevention plans for Weeki Wachee may include adding surveillance cameras, installing lights in the parking lot and securing areas in the roadside attraction where there may be 'security breaches,' he said. But Athanason is also realistic. He said Walt Disney World is a bigger attraction and is likely to receive more counterterrorism funds."

This was how, in deepest Florida, distant Utah, or on the Texas border, all places about as likely to be hit by an al-Qaeda attack as by a meteor, Americans were obsessing about keeping everything near and dear to them safe and secure. At the same time, of course, the Bush administration was breaking the bank at the Pentagon and in its Global War on Terror, while preparing the way for an America that would be plunged into startling insecurity.

Let's for a moment assume, however, that our safety really was, and remains, at stake in a war halfway across the planet. If so, let me ask you a question: What's your "safety" really worth? Are you truly willing to trade the lives of Awal Khan's family for a blanket guarantee of your safety -- and not just his family, but all those Afghan one-year olds, all those wedding parties that are -- yes, they really are -- going to be blown away in the years to come for you?

If, in 1979 as the Carter presidency was ending and our Afghan wars were beginning, you had told any group of Americans that we would be ever more disastrously involved in Afghanistan for 30 years, that, even then, no end would be in sight, and that we would twice declare victory (in 1989 after the Soviets withdrew, and again in 2001 when the Afghan capital Kabul was taken from the Taliban) only to discover that disaster followed, they undoubtedly would have thought you mad. Afghanistan? Please. You might as well have said Mars.

 
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