Fighting Terror With Terror

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Dr. Walter E. Williams is an excellent economist. He’s fairly libertarian when it comes to domestic policy in general. But turn him loose on foreign policy, at least in the post-9/11 era, and suddenly all that skepticism about government goes out the window.

Case in point: his recent column arguing for all-out war against the Muslim world. Williams argues that since some Muslims are terrorists, the West is justified in bombing, shooting, torturing, and otherwise employing its "full might" against all Muslims.

He likens this to the total war in which the Allies engaged in World War II:

Think back to the 1930s when the Japanese murdered an estimated 3 million to 10 million people in China, Indonesia, Korea, Philippines and Indochina; and on December 7, 1941 when they attacked Pearl Harbor, killing over 2,400 Americans. I’m betting that most of Japan’s at-the-time 60 million population were peace-loving people and would have wanted nothing to do with the brutal slaughter in China and the attack on the U.S. In formulating our response to the attack, should President Roosevelt have taken into account the fact that most Japanese are peace-loving people ruled by fanatics? Should our military have only gone after the Japanese pilots and their naval armada? I’d also wager that most Germans were peace-loving people and not part of the Nazi sadists wanting to wage war on their neighbors and exterminate the Jews. Again, should Roosevelt and Churchill have taken that into account in their response to German militarism? My answer is no and thank God it was their answer as well. Whether most Germans, Italians or Japanese were peace-loving or not was entirely irrelevant in formulating the Allied response to their militarism.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the prevailing attitude among Americans, perhaps in part because no American cities were firebombed or nuked by the Axis powers. It is also a horrific attitude to maintain for it makes no distinction between the guilty and the innocent. Would Williams think the police justified in coming into his neighborhood and machine-gunning all its residents because one suspected murderer happened to reside there?

Clearly Williams does not subscribe to Just War theory, which requires that (1) noncombatants be excluded from attacks; (2) the force used be proportional to the wrong which the war is attempting to right; and (3) only attacks with military objectives be undertaken, with care taken to minimize the harm visited upon noncombatants. There are good arguments to be made that Just War theory has been used more often to justify unjust wars than to prevent them, but it nevertheless remains true that the U.S. attempted to follow these principles to some extent prior to the Civil War — a war which Williams has more than once denounced.

Total war is, in fact, no more American than apple pie. The authors of the Declaration of Independence, in their litany of charges against King George, found it outrageous that he was employing total war against them both directly, having "plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people," and by inciting the "merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." Even the atomic bombing of Japan, so beloved of today’s conservatives, was not universally admired in its immediate aftermath any more than it is now. Among its detractors were General Dwight Eisenhower, who tried to persuade Truman not to drop the bomb and later said, "It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. . . . to use the atomic bomb, to kill and terrorize civilians, without even attempting [negotiations], was a double crime"; and Admiral William Leahy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Truman, who told his secretary on that fateful day, "[W]e will regret this day. The United States will suffer, for war is not to be waged on women and children." Williams may be glad that the Allies treated all citizens of Axis countries, whether civilians or military personnel, alike, but his is clearly not the sole American, let alone civilized, position on the subject.

Next Williams takes a leap of logic that can only be described as bizarre:

Horrible acts can be committed in countries where most of the people are peace-loving and simply want to be left alone to attend to their affairs. I imagine that described most of the people in the former Soviet Union; however, that did not stop the killing of an estimated 62 million people between 1917 and 1987. The same can be said of the Chinese people, but it didn’t stop the killing of 35 million of their countrymen during Mao Zedong’s reign. Whether most people of a country are peace-loving or not is not nearly as important as who’s calling the shots.

Williams is arguing, in essence, that since the peace-loving people of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China were mercilessly slaughtered by their own governments, that somehow justifies the merciless slaughtering of Germans and Japanese by the Allies because what’s important is "who’s calling the shots," not the peace-loving people forced to live under that tyranny. According to Williams’s logic, then, if I beat my wife, it is therefore okay for my neighbor Smith to go beat our mutual neighbor Jones’s wife if he doesn’t like the way Jones is behaving. Wonderland, here we come!

"At this particular time," continues Williams, "fanatical jihadists are calling the terrorism shots in many Muslim countries. Their success in committing terrorist acts is in no small part the result of the actions by the millions of peace-loving fellow Muslims." What actions are these? Either Muslims fail to condemn terrorism sufficiently or they are silent about terrorists’ activities among them, says Williams, adding: "There is no way terrorists can carry on their operations, obtain explosive materials, run terrorist training camps, raise money without the knowledge of other Muslims, whether they’re government officials, bankers, family members, friends or neighbors."

Let’s do the math on this. Williams says that of 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, "[w]e’re told it’s only that 1 percent . . . are fanatical jihadists." That means there are 12 million potential Islamic terrorists in the world, a number that seems extraordinarily high, but we’ll take Williams at his word for the purposes of this exercise. Now those 12 million jihadists may know quite a few people, but let’s say that on average no more than 10 of their acquaintances have any inkling of their clandestine activities. (It’s in their interest to keep the circle of knowledge small to prevent leaks.) Let us further stipulate that no terrorists share acquaintances with knowledge of their activities with other terrorists. That means that at most we have 12 million terrorists plus 120 million "enablers," giving us 132 million non-innocent Muslims, which still amounts to only 11 percent of the entire Muslim population. Williams, however, is proposing that the other 89 percent of Muslims be treated as enemies just the same.

Even if half of all Muslims are complicit in terrorism to one degree or another, is Williams justified in threatening all of them with annihilation? The obvious answer is no. Individuals commit crimes, sometimes in concert with other individuals. The individuals involved deserve to be brought to justice; all others ought to be left alone. Threatening all Muslims with death because some of them are terrorists is akin to threatening all African-Americans with death because some of them are murderers, and somehow I don’t think Williams would go for that.

Williams will have none of this bleeding-heart liberal nonsense about proportionality, however. As far as he’s concerned, President Bush had it right when he divided the world into those "with us" and those "against us", and any Muslim who isn’t actively working with the West is, by definition, working against it. He writes: "Because those millions of peace-loving Muslims do not speak out and expose terrorists and don’t more fully cooperate with domestic and international authorities trying to stop terrorists, they become enemies of the West just as the peace-loving people in Germany, Italy and Japan became enemies of the Allied powers during World War II. Like them, Muslims should be prepared to suffer the full might of the West in its efforts to fight terrorism."

Has it ever occurred to Williams that the vast majority of Muslims probably have no way of cooperating with anti-terrorism efforts for the simple reason that they don’t know any terrorists or aren’t aware that they do? Furthermore, those who do know terrorists may very well fear for their lives should they dare to expose them or cooperate with efforts to do so. In America we protect witnesses against organized crime; we don’t threaten them with the electric chair for refusing to testify out of fear. Why, then, should we threaten Muslims with "the full might of the West" for not helping Western governments root out terrorists? Wouldn’t offering rewards and protection be a more humane and productive approach?

Dr. Williams appears to have a blind spot when it comes to foreign policy. Whereas in domestic policy he insists on individuals’ being treated as individuals and given the maximum liberty possible, in foreign policy he insists on treating people as members of groups — and woe to him who, even by accident of birth, falls into a group designated "the enemy." When that happens, all moral scruples, in Williams’s view, can be tossed aside in favor of collective punishment with no limits. Furthermore, anyone who happens to reside in a country whose government has been designated an enemy is also targeted for death in Williams’s world. Ironically, this is precisely the opinion of the very terrorists Williams wishes to eradicate.

Michael Tennant [send him mail] is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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