43 Killed, 70 Wounded by Bus Bomber
And Rumsfeld’s False Analogy
A suicide bomber jumped on a bus in Baghdad just as it was about to head south for Nasiriyah on Thursday, eluding security. The bus was lifted by gigantic fingers of flame, reaching out to kill and wound bystanders, as well. Some 43 were killed and at least 70 wounded.
The news that Rumsfeld denied rumors on Thursday, that he was planning to step down tipped my memory to having heard him on the radio last week. (Too bad he won’t go. He has been a perfect disaster.)
Rumsfeld complained at SAIS a week ago that there are 14,500 murders a year in the United States and 42,000 driving fatalities, and the US press isn’t covering that, whereas, he implies, 43 people getting blown up on a bus in Baghdad is front page news.
Rumsfeld is committing a logical fallacy here. He is comparing apples and oranges. Does Rumsfeld think that there is not also a murder rate in Iraq beyond the guerrilla violence? The likelihood from the information that has leaked out from the Baghdad morgue is that Iraq is among the more murderous societies in the world at the moment. (As you would expect, since where there is no law and order, criminal elements act with impunity. Worse, there are regular political assassinations by religiious militias.) These Iraq murders are not usually reported in the press, any more than the murders in the US are. Likewise, one can only imagine the traffic death rate in Iraq. The country has imported more than 100,000 used cars since the fall of the old regime, and there aren’t exactly a lot of vigilant traffic police.
So the fact is, Mr. Rumsfeld, that the per capita rates for murder and traffic deaths in Iraq may well be similar to those in the United States. The deaths in the guerrilla war are extra.
The essential fallacy here is comparing political violence, which aims at altering the government, to individual acts of criminality. Human beings are naturally focused on attempts to take over the leadership of a society. The bus bombing in Baghdad was carried out by Sunni Arab guerrillas whom Rumsfeld marginalized, and it was aimed at Shiites on their way to Nasiriyah in the Shiite south. It was a further attempt to provoke Shiite reprisals and ultimately a Sunni-Shiite civil war, in hopes that the resulting instability would allow the Sunni Arabs to make a coup and come back to power. A criminal slitting someone’s throat in a back alley of Baghdad won’t cause a civil war. Actions like the bus bombing are potentially consequential.
Likewise the US military attacks launched this week around Ramadi are not random acts of violence (and it is shocking that the Secretary of Defense should compare such military operations to a civilian felony!) The US military said, by the way, that the operation had resulted in no Iraqi or US deaths. [Though a guerrilla roadside bomb killed a GI in the Ramadi area on Thursday.) The military sweeps are attempts to weaken the guerrilla movement that is blowing up US troops. It is about shaping the government and polity of Iraq. Human beings are hardwired to be far more interested in attempts to change leadership in society than in individual random crime. Who rules Iraq affects everyone in the world. That the US has a remarkably high annual murder rate is of moment mainly to the victims and to the neighborhoods affected. By the way, the US murder rate is per capita 4 times that of Britain, and the likely explanation for the difference is the easy availability of non-sporting firearms, including especially pistols. Since Rumsfeld wants more coverage of the 14,500 murders a year in the US, would he welcome practical steps to make it more like 3,500? The British are not intrinsically nobler than the Americans– our highly violent society is a result of specific structural features of our society.
In logic, Rumsfeld’s mistake is known as the “false analogy.” He incorrectly likens military violence to individual crime, and then expresses astonishment that the two things are not covered the same way by the press. Rumsfeld has a long track record of indulging in this particular form of sloppy thinking. He has also in the past made a false analogy between guerrilla violence in Iraq and race riots in small towns in the United States. In the terms of American racial discourse, that particular meme has overtones of bigotry, since he appears to be attempting to code the Sunni Arab guerrillas as “Black.” (Or maybe it is the other way around.) It is all propaganda. It is shameful in a democratic society for the Secretary of Defense to engage in such warped discourse. It is more shameful that almost no one calls him on it.