Saturday, May 02, 2009


Bob Herbert is consistently the farthest left of the columnists at the New York Times, acting as defender and apologist for the whole structure of leftist institutions, from the welfare state to racial preferences. He's one of those writers you tend to tune out after a while, because he always offers more of the same, rarely producing any fresh new idea. But his latest column was so flamboyant that it really caught my attention.

If you want to understand what is wrong with the left, and the grave danger that it poses to civilization, this is a good place to start.

Rich's column is a plea for gun control. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that private gun ownership by law-abiding citizens is an individual right protected by the Constitution, and it did so based on substantial arguments about the history and meaning of the Second Amendment. This ruling would seem to foreclose any talk about new gun control measures, and certainly anyone seriously addressing the issue would have to respond to the Supreme Court's argument simply to establish that gun control is legally permissible under our system of government, much less that it is desirable. Yet Herbert completely ignores that basic issue. So much, then, for leftist commentators' protestations about how much they care about the Constitution.

But that is not what is interesting about Herbert's article. The interesting part begins when he declares that "There is no way to overstate the horror of gun violence in America." He then proceeds to grossly overstate it.

Roughly 16,000 to 17,000 Americans are murdered every year, and more than 12,000 of them, on average, are shot to death. This is an insanely violent society, and the worst of that violence is made insanely easy by the widespread availability of guns.

He concludes that America has a "culture soaked in blood."

In the very next paragraph, Herbert provides a statistic which helps put this "insane" violence in perspective: there are "283 million privately owned firearms" in the United States. Which means that the portion of these firearms that are used to deadly effect is less than one half of one one-hundredth of one percent—which is about as absurdly minuscule as the "inefficiencies" Barack Obama has announced that he will eliminate from the federal budget. And of course, Herbert does not cite statistics describing the number of times guns are used successfully in self-defense. In fact, later in the article, he cites violent criminals shot by the police as part of his tally of the "victims" of gun violence.

To take a more relevant statistic, murders and gunshot wounds do not figure anywhere near the top of the leading causes of death in the United States. This is why Americans—including Bob Herbert himself—do not actually scurry around in fear of being shot. We all make the very rational calculation that our chance of getting hit by a bus while crossing the street or having a heart attack at our desks is much greater than our chance of dying from a gunshot wound.

But that is not true in every part of the world. And that is what strikes me as so garish about Herbert's column. Think about what culture—of all of the countries or regions in the world—one would describe as being "soaked in blood."

In the previous century, the Germans opened up the floodgates of slaughter twice, killing tens of millions in unprovoked wars and through deliberate genocide. The Chinese Communists killed 30 million people through starvation and anarchic mass purges. The Russians killed about the same amount in an attempt to maintain the oppressive grip of Soviet tyranny; even today, anyone who causes trouble for Russia's rulers has a tendency to end up shot, pushed out of a window, beaten to death in police custody, or poisoned by some exotic radioactive substance.

Earlier today, I saw a story on the History Channel (I think) about a brutal civil war fought ten years ago in the West African nation of Sierra Leone. One witness described how "the vultures were too fat to fly" and simply hopped around from corpse to corpse, feasting off of piles of human remains. Latin America has produced a string of mass-killers, from Pancho Villa to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. It has recently been the battleground for numerous long and brutal insurgencies (and often equally brutal counter-insurgencies). And Mexico is suffering under the runaway power of violent criminal gangs of drug-smugglers.

In this very violent world, America is a refuge of order and sanity, as many thousands of immigrants and refugees who come here can attest.

And of course there is one culture that truly is soaked in and obsessed by bloodshed in a way that no other culture is able to equal: the culture of Islam. This is a culture of suicide bombings and beheadings, a culture where parents murder their own children—and do it for the sake of what they call "honor"—and where religious authorities debate the finer points of wife-beating. It is a culture that crashes airplanes into skyscrapers and celebrates the resulting mass deaths.
But Bob Herbert claims that the US is somehow a uniquely violent country.

This perfectly reflects the policy priorities of the mainstream left, and of the current administration. The approach is: apologize profusely for the supposed failings of the United States and withdraw our power from the world in contrition—while studiously ignoring the much greater threats to life and liberty emanating from abroad.

Bob Herbert's latest column is a reminder of the self-induced insanity of this world view. Herbert is thoroughly out of touch with the real facts about the world, because he is motivated by a philosophical prejudice against the world's brightest spot of sanity, liberty, and prosperity.—

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