Like so many others this week, I've been stunned as I try to process the enormity of events in New York and Washington D.C. And now, like so many others who are emerging from their ruminations, I feel compelled to add my own thoughts to those churning around on the internet and in personal conversations. Most of you who are reading this have already read one thing after another on this tragedy. In fact, many have already expressed what I am feeling, much better than I could say it. You'd have a tough time not hearing essentially what I am thinking. So I am going to confine my thoughts to the one topic that I think isn't getting enough emphasis. You can go to the Jewish World Review, Townhall.com, or The Heritage Foundation if you really want to read well-written analyses and ideas on what has happened and what should happen. Or watch Fox News if you want the best coverage of events as they unfold.
And I should state up front that I am deeply saddened by what has happened. And I would bend any effort I am capable of if I thought I could help those who are suffering. My heart grieves at the pain borne by innocent families who will have to live with the aftermath of this atrocity for the rest of their lives. But that sentiment has been expressed as well in the links above and this isn't going to be a post that contains my grief and compassion.
Mainly, I want to make a point that is chiefly mirrored by Andrew Sullivan, with whom I have many philosophical differences, but in this matter we are principally aligned. So pay attention, because there is something very important that I want you to understand:
What happened in New York is not a crime. It isn't even terrorism.
We will make fundamental mistakes if we treat this as a crime or as a terrorist attack. We do not want to make mistakes at this important juncture. Or rather, we do not want to pay the price of any mistakes we will make if we come at this from the wrong angle. If this were a crime, we would carefully investigate all that happened. We would gather evidence, find the culprit, arrest them, and bring them to trial. While it may be important to gain evidence of what happened, we already know the important facts and any addition to those facts is extraneous detail with no actual bearing on the decision at hand. Now is not the time to be moderate in our response, to be civil, or even to be careful. Our civility and care are the very tools being used against us and while they are an important part of our society (or any society that wishes to prosper in peace), they are not so important that we can afford to cling to them while we are under this kind of attack.
This is not even a terrorist attack, or at least, treating it as a terrorist attack will prevent us from enacting any meaningful change to the situation. If we treat this as a terrorist attack, we will seek out those who perpetrated it and deal with them as the vicious animals they are. Which is fine as far as it goes, but also misses the point in a dangerous way. We call those who perpetrated this attack terrorists because they have terrorized us in a deliberate, calculated manner for purposes of their own. But to call this a terrorist attack is to make the fundamental assumption that a single, relatively small group of people is responsible for the evil that has been committed. That assumption is wrong. Dangerously wrong. The problem we are fighting is not the problem of Usama Bin Laden deciding to kill as many of our civilians as he can.
What we have is a declaration of war. War sucks. War is the single most perplexing human endeavor. War means death and force and fire and blood and suffering on scales so grand as to defy true comprehension. War cannot be controlled, it cannot be measured, and most importantly (and frighteningly), it cannot be stopped short of the unconditional surrender or destruction of all but one side (anything short of unconditional surrender or destruction is just an agreement to rest a bit until the next war). War is a baseball bat, not a laser scalpel, but sometimes it is the only tool available to do the job that needs to be done. And unfortunately, one thing inescapable about war is that only one side has to choose to start one. Anyone who has been attacked in a war has the choice to surrender, join the attacker, or submit to destruction. Those are the only choices.
Our response should be the response of any innocent nation attacked by violence--righteous reprisal. I use the word righteous because unlike ethical equivalists, I believe that both sides in a war are not inherently equivalent. Oh sure, wars of aggression are wrong and wars can certainly contain two (or more) sides who are equally at fault--there has to be a bad guy in every war, but sometimes there are good guys as well. Protection from tyrants is a perfectly valid and even noble reason to wage war. Certain nations have decided that they hate us enough to encourage their citizens to kill us. They are our foes and while I am reluctant to react to anyone just because they hate me, that hate has been given violent expression and requires a response in kind--not in the same kind of hate, but in the recognition that we are at war and that violence can no longer be avoided. Any nation that harbors and encourages terrorists should be destroyed or required to surrender unconditionally to us. Any terrorists who plot to kill U.S. citizens should be destroyed or forced to surrender unconditionally. If these nations or people do not want to die, they must lay down their arms and submit to us right now. Any other response will only mean that the war will continue. This is not justice. It is not pretty. This is not easy. But it must be done to protect us from the tyrants who would rule us if we do not defeat them. This is no less than a defense of freedom. Make no mistake, our enemies have decided that they will either force us to submit or destroy us. And unless we deal with them on that level, we will continue to suffer and die until we get to that level.
What we have right now is guerilla warfare with the twist that while most guerillas originate inside the target being attacked, these guerillas start out in other countries. Guerillas are the tactic of choice when a weaker foe decides to take on a stronger target. It is a horrible and bloody way to wage war, but terribly effective. Our response must be the complete surrender of our enemies. Our enemies hide behind lies and deceit, but we know who some of them are and should not hesitate to take them out. I'll name names. Afghanistan and Iraq should right now be forced to surrender and accept our troops in their country until we root out every terrorist we can find and the leaders of both countries should be forced to adopt the same reforms we forced on Germany and Japan when we defeated them--free elections, a free market, and a free press. If either country refuses, it is time to treat them as the foes they are and destroy them. Any other country that refuses to cooperate in our war against these guerillas should face similar treatment--they are allies or enemies, their choice which. That likely means attacking Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
Oh yeah, and while we're at it, we should aid other free nations in their fight against the same kind of guerilla warfare. Not all guerillas are bad, mind you. Don't forget that our nation started out of a rebel insurrection and was fought by some of the first guerillas in the modern era. The problem isn't war and we should not fall for the trap of moral equivalence that says that all who fight are evil. What we should be unequivalent about is that we support the fight for freedom (note that support is an indefinite term and means anything from our wishes for success to sending in troops--the level of support is dictated by other considerations). This war is about freedom--the only thing really worth fighting for. We are right to fight. The fight for freedom is vitally important not just to ourselves, but for all others who yearn to be free. I'm not saying that we should intervene wherever freedom is oppressed--you cannot force a people to be free. I am saying that anyone who requests our help against tyranny should find a sympathetic response and all the aid we can give them. And, of course, anyone who threatens our freedom should be recognized as the enemy that they are and forced to surrender or die if we have the power to do so.
A final comment on the dilution of language. War and freedom have both been diluted by our experiences with peace and prosperity. We talk about "freedom from poverty" as if such a thing exists. And we talk about "the war on drugs" as if drugs were an enemy state with a standing army. I hate the watering down of words that have such specific and powerful meanings. War is very serious and while we fight drugs, we hardly have a war--for one thing, we aren't killing people and our military isn't even engaged. And freedom from poverty is only possible if poverty were some kind of tyrant conscripting our youth or stealing our property. People use these words because of the very strength that they are eroding in their casual exploitation. The problem comes at such a time as this when we need those words in all their strength to express our true situation.
Technorati Tags: Terrorism