"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11: Part Two

If this were a perfect world, I'd continue my meanderings on 9/11 with the same hope and prayers as before and leave it at that. But this is not a perfect world; and so as we look at 9/11 five years after, I can't help doing so with the bitter taste of cynicism and disappointment lingering in my mouth.

Much has been published on the subject today.
Some call for a more ruthless response. Some think that the naive notion of the "end of history" has played into our refusal to take the threat of radical Islam more seriously. Some think that little has changed and that now, as then, our enemies continue to hide in plain sight because we refuse to really look for them. And some (in an older analysis) paint a broad picture of the threat we still face culturally, economically, politically, and militarily. Their thoughts are all worth considering, along with many others. I'll leave them be.

My own thoughts, as I said, meander down different paths, but ultimately they boil down to a few basic questions. One question, really: Is 9/11 the day that "changed everything?" Perhaps another way of phrasing it is: do we take the threat of Islamic fundamentalism more seriously today then we did on September 10? Starting at the top, I think the answer has to be "no". President Bush has made many a speech about the kind of ideology we're up against, and as far as his words go, he's right. Radical Islam is a hateful ideology that seeks to establish itself across the entire world and roll back the civilization clock several hundred years. With the exception of a few ultra-lefty types, we're on the same page here. But Bush seems to think that serious words indicate a serious mindset. Sometimes, I wonder. If this is the "calling of our generation", as he said tonight, why hasn't our generation received a general call to arms? Where is the encouragement to enlist, to buy war bonds to support the effort, to retool parts of our economy to a war footing so that we win this "struggle of civilizations" by crushing our enemy beneath thousands of tank treads? We have yet to hear encouragement of this sort, from the president down through his Cabinet and throughout Congress as a whole. Our leaders who claim to take this fight seriously have yet to ask Americans to truly step up to the plate. I've said it many times before: I sincerely believe that if such a call were made, it would be loudly and overwhelmingly answered. But no one's asked. Perhaps the greatest mistake made since 9/11 was not poor intelligence, or "letting" bin Laden slip away in Tora Bora, or putting too few troops on the ground in Iraq, but rather telling Americans to respond to 9/11 by going back to their malls and offices like nothing happened. Americans, trusting their leaders, listened. They answered the call made to them, and promptly turned what could have been an economic nightmare into an even stronger economy. But a strong economy does not a victory make.

Then there are those who claim to take the war seriously, and then hammer the president when he in fact does so. I hate picking on the New York Times (ok, actually I don't) but they provide the best examples. Early on, as fires still burned at Ground Zero, their editors called for Bush to do more to track terrorists, freeze their assets, and generally inhibit their ability to attack us. Bush did just that, instituting programs to monitor their phone calls and follow the cash flow to their leaders; and he was promptly attacked for supposedly overstepping his authority. Does the revelation of the methods we use to bring terrorists to justice indicate any degree of seriousness? No.

Our government bureaucracy has shown its own lack of interest in an ardent prosecution of this war. We need only look at our intelligence apparatus to see this. Here we are, five years later, and rather than streamlining our intelligence gathering, sharing information with each agency, and flooding the Middle East with new eyes and ears, we're left with the same shortage of Arabic translators and a Department of Homeland Security that one year ago, apparently missed the intel about a big-ass storm about to hit the Gulf Coast. Rather than coming together in common cause to fight the enemy, everyone wants to guard their own turf and prove to the public why they should continue to exist.

This lack of seriousness might not permeate all of society, but it infects the parts that matter. It infects the John Murthas, who want to see us "redeploy" to the other side of the planet. It infects our public commentators, who'd rather expose our counterterrorism operations than be grateful for the protection they provide. It infects our educators, whose response to this anniversary of Islamic radicalism was to invite a member of a terror-exporting country to lecture Americans about "ethics and tolerance." Virtually everyone who - directly or indirectly - guides the hand that holds the sword shows a stubborn and dangerous refusal to fully face the situation.

That "sword" is one of the few elements of society that takes this struggle seriously. It has to; for those at the tip of the spear, it is a literal life-or-death battle. And our warriors do as they have always done: in horrendous conditions, sometimes without sufficient equipment, and not infrequently without sufficient moral support from back home, they take the fight to the enemy so that the enemy doesn't take the fight here. Western civilization's general lack of resolve may lose them this war; it certainly won't be because of her soldiers.

One other group takes this fight seriously, and that is the bin Ladens and Ahmadinejads of this world. The fact that they view this as a "clash of civilizations" should be grounds enough for us to think the same thing. One would think that one 9/11, another earlier World Trade Center bombing, the USS Cole, our embassies in Africa, Beirut, and numerous other bloodlettings do a pretty good job of demonstrating just how seriously they take this idea. But all of that, combined with countless suicide bombings and beheadings, is apparently insufficient. Maybe a mushroom cloud over Brussels or Paris will finally drive the point home.

The last thing I want to do is cast a darker pall over an already black day. For in the darkness, there were many rays of light. The actions of ordinary Americans, from the passengers of Flight 93 to firemen and police officers who ran toward certain death in the Trade Center, redeemed the complacency of our leaders in the years leading up to that day. The actions of our soldiers in distant battlefields continues to redeem us from that complacency. The real tragedy is that that complacency has yet to fade. That's what makes this anniversary so bitter and disappointing: the fact that so many nameless Americans know how serious this day and its aftermath is, while those whose names are plastered in print and picture refuse to wake up.

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