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Michael Tomasky,

I take some exception to your argument. It is true that humans become used to repeated horrors.

How else explain the unbelievable courage of Russians in the face of horrors beyond imagination on the Western Front? How else explain the endurance of Palestinians today after a half century of non-stop abuse?

But the truth is Americans haven’t the least idea what real terror is.

Despite all the hype over 9/11, the deaths represented about 7% of what Americans kill on their highways every year, about 2 months worth of the murders on the streets, Americans killing other Americans, that go on year after year.

Even in WWII, America’s losses were on the order of 1/2 of 1% of the 50,000,000 or so souls lost.

The pictures of 9/11, repeated ad nauseam on television, and the idea that so many victims were privileged middle class helped boost a disproportionate response.

People were driven by foolish paranoid fears into doing truly ridiculous things, much as they did during Orson Welles’ old broadcast adaptation of War of the Worlds.

There is a history of paranoid responses in America – going back to the 1950s witch hunts and to the Alien and Sedition Acts of John Adam’s time and to the immense fears of slave revolts that constantly weighed on the minds of Southerners even before the Revolution – which I believe is in part explained by the gene pool of Puritanism. The Puritans were truly ferocious, unpleasant people, filled with paranoid fears of hell and devils, and they made a heavy contribution to early America.

Mr. Black’s comment reflects on something George Bush said not long after 9/11. He had not been an especially popular president – not even elected of course – but after those events his polls rocketed. Americans seemed to cling to the legs of this pathetic man like frightened puppies. On a trip to Chicago he was quoted as having said he felt as though he had won the trifecta.

We also heard from a major figure in the Pentagon a couple of years ago that another terrorist event of large size might cause the military to take over from civilian authority. Scary stuff, but spoken by a calm general.

So I am sure the possibility for an ugly response remains in America, perhaps indeed a horrible response grounded in the ignorant idea that “we didn’t hit them hard enough the first time.” John McCain would be the obvious beneficiary of this.

Many forget how threatening the American response was. I was writing pieces at the time trying to promote a sensible, legal and diplomatic response, and I received truly ugly e-mails. According to reports out of Britain, the government there was induced to join along in Afghanistan out of genuine fear that America was itching for a nuclear response. Remember Rumsfeld’s Nazi-like call for all prisoners there to be killed or walled away? And shortly after 3,000 of them disappeared, reportedly suffocated in vans out on the desert.

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