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Untitled Essay - The Ornery American


Untitled Essay
By Marv Waschke September 26, 2001

September 11, 2001 was so ugly; so frightening that even naming the day is daunting. Repeatedly, the World Trade Towers are compared to Pearl Harbor, but September 11, 2001 was very different from December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor has horrible, but it was a familiar event with a time-honored response. In 1941, the sovereign state of Japan began a conquest of the sovereign state United States with a surprise military attack by soldiers carrying the insignia of Japan. The United States responded as nations have always responded: the U.S. repelled and conquered the invader.

Something different happened on September 11. Although sovereign states played roles, the United States were not attacked by a nation and there is no sovereign nation to repel and conquer. September 11 was an act of war, but it is a different war than we have ever seen before. There are no historic precedents to use as a guide for our response. The instruments of the attack were not soldiers in any sense that we usually think of soldiers. They were not outfitted by a military organization. They purchased their box cutter weapons in American hardware stores. They learned their deadly skills in American flight schools. They did not live in barracks; they lived in American suburbs.

We cannot respond by conquering the enemy state because there is no enemy state to conquer. There are two apparent possible states to attack: Afghanistan and Iraq. The best candidate, Afghanistan, is the worst problem because Afghanistan is not a modern unified state. Afghanistan is one of the most remote areas of the entire world. Its terrain and its history are equally bleak and chaotic. No outside force has conquered and held the high passes and rugged valleys of Afghanistan for long. The Soviets in the 80ís and 90ís destroyed the thin layer of modern infrastructure that the Afghans once had. All that is left is fierce and bitter collection of tribal people in a land that is ravaged by destruction, drought, and famine. What little government exists in the Taliban regime does not have strong popular support.

The problem goes beyond the tenuity of the Afghan target. As reprehensible and repressive as the Taliban regime may be, it was not the attacker. The Taliban only harbors Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden. Although there seems little doubt that Al-Qaeda bears responsibility, the exact role Al-Qaeda played in the attack is not yet certain. Other groups were almost certainly also involved and may have done more than Al-Qaeda in planning and executing the attack. Some of these organizations are embedded in countries such as Egypt that are firmly sympathetic with the American cause.

If the Taliban does not choose to give up bin Laden, which seems likely, a military attack on the Taliban will be justified by their unwillingness to extradite a truly evil criminal, but such an attack, even if it achieves the aim of forcing the Taliban to join the rest of the world in acting against Al-Qaeda, will not increase the safety of America. The terrorist network that threatens American safety will not go away when Al-Qaeda is dismantled. Osama bin Laden will be replaced by another leader of Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda will be replaced by another terrorist organization.

September 11 was the flare up of a disease. The body of America, the world, has been infected with a disease. September 11 was a seizure during which the infection suddenly asserted its power over the infected body. The response to a disease must be different from the response to an attack by a foreign army. Diseases turn the body's own defenses against itself. Physicians spend more effort protecting the body from itself than in attacking the invading virus or bacterium directly.

So far, we have responded to this attack like a physician, not a general. The first step was to stop the bleeding and remove the immediate source of injury. Planes were grounded, the wounded were attended, and the search began for survivors and perpetrators. There are times when a physician acts like a general. Antibiotics and other drugs are marshaled and deployed like troops. Perhaps, there will be a time for military action; perhaps military action against Afghanistan or Iraq will be appropriate.

A military attack may be needed, but a single military strike or a prolonged military war will not make America and the world safe from the forces that attacked on September 11. A good physician does not stop with curing the disease in one patient. He seeks to prevent the disease in all patients. And we must do the same.

Therefore, this essay is a call to arms, but a call for a different kind of arms. This battle will ultimately be fought on a different plane. This is a war of ideas. Al-Qaeda is based on the idea that the developed world has oppressed and injured the undeveloped world, the idea that the Christian and the Jewish world have oppressed the Muslim world, and the idea that the solution to this supposed oppression is to be found in killing innocents and suppressing freedom.

We all know that Al-Qaeda is wrong, but its power comes from the fact that in some ways, it is right. We, America, have bombed and starved innocents in Iraq. We were fighting a mad man who killed innocents first, but that is an easily forgotten and slim justification to those who loved the innocents who died by our hand, just as saying that there is some right in Al-Qaeda will outrage many who lost husbands and wives, fathers and mothers in the World Trade Towers. More than once, our good intentions have aided hatred and fanaticism by blindly taking sacrifices from people who do not understand or agree with our motives.

So now, what can we do? We can rise not only to the military challenge but also to the intellectual challenge. We must define and extol the values of freedom and liberty. For most of the last century, both the right and the left have intensely examined our democratic institutions and found them wanting in many ways. This examination must not end. It is at the foundation of our institutions. But we have neglected the synthesis of our continuously purified principles of democracy into a vigorous and persuasive statement to the world.

Without such an intellectual statement, we cannot hope to win over the forces we face. If we are to win this, we must convince, not bully but convince the Muslim world that they must strike out for freedom and liberty. We can sing our anthems and wave our flags to rally ourselves, but this will not win the battle against Al-Qaeda's call to arms.

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