I’m probably going to tread on a little sensitive ground here, but if you’ve been reading for awhile then you should be used to it by now. I’ve been mulling the age old question of the value of a human life. Let’s start with something personal. It goes without saying that I would sacrifice my life to save my children. Most parents would. Should one of my children be killed, I would likely risk life or limb in the short term to avenge him. I would certainly want to see the killer get his due, and I wouldn’t mind giving it to him myself. But what if the killer was a mystery that, after a fashion, couldn’t be solved by the police. Would I be judged rational if I bankrupted myself and destroyed my life and the lives of my remaining family in an effort to hunt this guy down? Would I be judged rational if I fenced in my house and forbade my remaining son from ever being in any sort of uncontrolled situation? Probably not.
So why does this scenario seem rational on a national scale? Yes, it was a tragedy that thousands died on 9/11. A measured response was justified. But the current war on terror has cost us over $100 billion and is projected to cost at least that much again. More people have been killed (not limited to Americans) in the war on terror than on 9/11. The Patriot Act has eroded our personal freedoms. While it’s true we haven’t been attacked domestically since 9/11, it’s not at all clear if that’s cause-and-effect or serendipity. When is enough enough?
Over 500,000 people die of cancer every year in this country. If 2000 lives are worth $100 billion a year, are 500,000 worth $25 trillion? Probably not. But can you imagine how many lives could be saved if even $10 billion were pumped into cancer research and treatment? Or let’s invest in education, economic development, or countless other productive ventures.
Who is more successful, the bully who everyone was afraid of in high school or the nerdy kid whose lunch money he stole? When you were 16 and looking on, the bully sure looked like the cock of the roost. But what about now? The bully is flipping burgers and the nerd is pulling down 6 figures. Whose life looks better on a whole? “Carpe diem” may have a sensual satisfaction, but those who grok the “Gestalt” and can see past their primitive emotions are the mark to beat.
The terrorists sought to cripple our way of life through an act of terror. They did. They were the catalyst which has triggered an ongoing succession of destructive actions on our part which have hurt us economically, disrupted the lives of more families, and eroded our future more than the loss of a few buildings and a few thousand cherished individuals ever could have.
I am in no way trying to downplay the loss of life and the feelings of vulnerability brought on by 9/11. But in the same way that the Twin Towers are being replaced by a monument to our determination to succeed and rebuild and be reborn from the ashes of despair, shouldn’t we be doing the same as a nation? Let’s build, not destroy. Why conquer a nation when you can own it?
We seem to be forgetting that we won the cold war not by way of military might, but by economic strength. We bankrupted the Soviets. For their part, they spent so much on overextending their military might that they saw their currency devalue until they were so far in debt their economy crumbled. Their people, deprived of many personal freedoms (for the sake of protecting the state), were unmotivated, unemployed, and unsupportive of a government they thought was operating in the best interest of the oligarchical elite rather than in their best interest.
There, but for the grace of God, go we…