Fear is a natural response to life threatening situations and is a built-in behavioral pattern in all human beings. The author of the essay Controlling Irrational Fears After 9/11 extensively quotes Chapman and Harris’s article A Skeptical Look at September 11th to construe that the fears generated in America after the 9/11 attacks are largely irrational and that the response of the US Government has been disproportionate to the actual threat from terrorism. This paper offers a critique of the author’s premise on the irrationality of fears and responses post 9/11 attacks.
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The author contends that the response of the American public and the Government to the 9/11 attacks were disproportionate if one were to simply look at the casualty figures of 2,800 dead as against 20,000 fatalities in an Indian earthquake that did not evoke a similar response (Chapman and Harris 456). The author states that in the US, the monthly fatalities due to road accidents is higher than the total casualties suffered in the 9/11 attacks.
The response of the authorities that showered substantial compensation on the relatives of 9/11 victims while giving no such compensation to the relatives of victims of road accidents who suffer the same loss of earning members, is, in the opinion of the author, irrational. The author opines that relativity of perception and misconstrued values are responsible to a large extent for the irrational fears that have been prevalent since 9/11. Larger fatalities due to natural disasters in a distant land are dismissed as ‘acts of nature’ while a terrorist strike is given all the media attention and governmental action because it is closer home and is an act of malice.
The author opines that the government’s irrational response in spending billions of dollars on its ‘War on Terror’ could have been better utilized to find solutions to road fatalities and shoring up the economy. The author argues that the immense wastage of capital, human manpower within the US in setting up a Department of Homeland Security and external security structures could have been better utilized in halting economic recession at home. The author offers the premise that economic and emotional damage to the people of America was self inflicted due to the subjectivity and could have been avoided had the people viewed the entire event more objectively.
The author’s theses are acceptable if one takes a narrow ‘worm’s’ view of rationality. If one applies linear logic and inductive reasoning as the author has, then it is true that 2,800 deaths are insignificant compared to 20,000 deaths and that more number of people die in road accidents monthly in the US than those that did in the 9/11 attacks. However, such logic completely misses the larger perspective of duties of Nation States to its people and the Geo-political penalties of not providing adequate response to terrorist threats.
The preamble to the American Constitution notes that “ensuring domestic tranquility”, and providing “common defense” (Cornell University) as some of its ingredients. The Lockean Social Contract which formed the basis of the American nation state makes it incumbent on the State to provide for the security of its citizens who in turn would honor the rules and regulations set by the state. Thus from the view of state obligations, the government has to take all measures possible to ensure the safety and security of its people and prevent any further terrorist attacks.
Terrorism is nothing but illegal use of force to coerce societies or governments by inducing fear in their populations (Smelser, Faith and Council 2). The fact that a fear psychosis had taken hold in the US post 9/11 is undisputed. That the government needed to act quickly to calm its citizens is also a fact. No amount of rationality as argued by the author can counter the fact that a robust response both within the United States and abroad was required to reassure the American people.
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It is to the credit of the US government and the Department of Homeland Security that since 9/11 no terrorist attacks have taken place on American soil, heavy expenditure notwithstanding. A discourse on the rationality of response is a luxury that only writer like the author can afford who has no responsibility or accountability unlike the government which is accountable to its people for their security.
Terrorism is a mind game. The perpetrators of 9/11 not only sought to kill as many people as possible in the attack, but also tried to attack the image of a country with superpower status. A weak American response would have altered geo-political perceptions. Friends and adversaries would have taken a weak response to be signs of American decline and changed their policies to the detriment of US national interests in the long term.
So from the strategic point of view, a robust response was not only essential but also inescapable. The very fact that the US could mount a counter-offensive within 48 hours of the incident in far off Afghanistan and successfully rout the Taliban in the initial phases of the operation restored America’s image as the foremost military power in the world. Very simply put, the world does not care much about the quantum of American deaths in road accidents, but it does pay a premium to understand and see what sort of response the Americans would have taken against an attack on its own soil.
A weak response would have signaled a shift in global power balance and a possible realignment of forces. The deterrent effect of the initial phases of War on Terror on would- be attackers was immense, which cannot be quantified or trivialized as the author of the essay has sought to do. The author’s satirical conjecture on random searches of luggage of elderly ladies getting on airplanes in Wyoming does disservice to the fact that heightened security has ensured a 100 percent safe travel by air throughout the US since 9/11.
That some civil liberties would be restricted in some sense, is a price that almost all Americans have willingly foregone in return for physical and psychological security. A vast majority of American people approved actions and responses of the government on its war on terror in 2002. In fact, President Bush gained an approval rating of about 68% in 2002 (Gallup Poll), the time when the Chapman and Harris article was written.
In conclusion, it can be stated that the essay Controlling Irrational Fears After 9/11 relies on simplistic inductive reasoning that leads to a misinterpretation of facts. The essay clearly brings out the writer’s narrow focus that eschews the need to understand and analyze the larger issues of constitutional duties of a nation state, and statecraft against the backdrop of Geo-politics. The response of the American people post 9/11 was a natural and instinctive response. The actions of the American government after the 9/11 attacks were not irrational but in fact, necessary and inescapable to restore the faith of the American people in its government and that of the wider world in the continued relevance of American power.
Chapman, Clark R and Alan W Harris. “A Skeptical Look at September 11th: How we can Defeat Terrorism by Reacting to it More Rationally.” Skeptical Inquirer (2002): 456-458.
Cornell University. “United States Constitution.” 2009. Cornell University website. Web.
Gallup Poll. “Bush Approval at 68%.” 2002. Gallup Poll website. Web.
Smelser, Neil, et al. Terrorism: Perspectives From the Behavioral and Social Sciences. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press, 2002.