Since this country is apparently organizing its own jihad--its own holy war of vengeance--it is appropriate to calculate precisely how many eyes are required to compensate for an American eye, how many teeth for an American tooth.
An American life is obviously worth more than an Afghan life, right? The Afghans are not Arabs, by the way. Neither are the Iranians, but that doesn't matter. Afghans are poor, illiterate peasants. They live in caves and tents and survive by simple farming and grazing, much as their ancestors have done for thousands of years. About a quarter of them may starve to death this winter. They don't bathe very often or use deodorant. They are dirty, smelly, unkempt, and uncivilized. They don't live very long. So clearly one of their lives is not worth an American life. Nor is the death of one of their children a fit recompense for the death of an American child. Hence we must establish for our revenge an appropriate ratio of value.
Let's say for the sake of argument that we will have to kill six Afghans for every American who died in the terrorist raids. That means our righteous revenge will require the death of perhaps thirty thousand Afghans. The United States military, which desperately wants to even the score for the damaged Pentagon, can easily dispose of thirty thousand of them. We will have our revenge and the world will be a better place. Who will miss the smelly, dirty Afghans?
None of the forty thousand we kill may be terrorists. Indeed, the real terrorists have probably disappeared already. So we will have to kill a lot of the Taliban to make up for that, even if that means we create new terrorists.
However, our leaders have more in mind. Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has told the world that if a country doesn't cooperate with us, we will "end" that country.
That would be a real challenge for our generals. How does one go about ending a country? We would have to wipe out their government completely and any possible successors it might have. We could spray tactical nuclear weapons all over the Afghan countryside, killing millions of people, and still not collect any terrorists or Taliban leaders in our net. Then we would have to send in massive ground forces to do what the Russians or the Brits have never been able to--bring the Afghans under foreign rule.
So such a plan imposes another calculation on our revenge. How many American lives are we willing to spend to kill one terrorist? How many body bags with young American men and women will have to arrive at Andrews Air Force Base before we begin to wonder whether we are accomplishing much with these tactics?
It took twenty-five thousand deaths for the country to turn against the Vietnam war (and twenty-five thousand more during the Nixon years). Would that be enough this time? Or will the public decide it wants to reject the war it so enthusiastically supports now?
Our leaders tell us that we will have to "sacrifice." By this, they mean (partly) that we will have to slip a little in the direction of a police state, but more that a lot of young people will have to sacrifice their lives--even if a strategy of "ending" countries doesn't work.
President Bush has taken advantage of the fury of Americans to decide that we will fight the first war of the new millennium and that he will be a successful war president--indeed, the Franklin Roosevelt of the new millennium. The final result may well be that he becomes the new millennium's Lyndon Johnson--a man who used the wrong strategy and the wrong model and the wrong motivation for a new kind of conflict, one that required a more deft, nuanced and sophisticated strategy than unilateral American brute force.
It would be much wiser of Bush to remind the bloodthirsty element in our population that vengeance still belongs to God and that God will repay. And God is not likely to approve of a country that tries to usurp his role.