TO WAR! TO WAR!
On America's Response to the Terrorism of 11 September 2001
Tuesday, September 18, 2001
by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
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Always remember: Others may hate you- but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself- RICHARD M. NIXON, in his Farewell to the White House Staff on the morning of his Resignation from the Presidency, 9 August 1974.
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This is the toughest Commentary I have had to write in my nearly two years of writing such Commentaries for this website: first, because the horrifying events of this past 11 September do not so easily lend themselves to the mission and purpose of TheGreenPapers.com. This website is all about the American political process and, except for the relatively brief postponement of the New York City Primaries- for which, in fact, voting was already underway when the attack on the World Trade Center Twin Towers took place, the political process itself was, as things turned out, not all that much directly affected in the short term: the President, Vice-President and highest level people within the 54th Presidential Administration were unhurt; no United States Senator, nor any Representative in Congress, nor any Governor of a State was injured or killed; indeed, a Special Primary to determine the Major Parties' nominees to fill the vacant House seat from the 9th Congressional District of Massachusetts went on as planned. We did not, as things turned out, have to post the words "killed in terrorist attack, 11 September 2001" under any of the office-holders one finds listed on TheGreenPapers.com: Thank God!
But it is also difficult to write this piece because to take on such a task one has to deal with some rather difficult issues for which there are no simple answers (assuming one can even find an acceptable answer in the first place); however, if one IS going to take on this task, one had better have the strength of resolve to keep to one's own principles and, if only for the record, mine yet remain those first stated in the original Mission Statement of this website, in which was written the following:
Whatever is written on this site... is simply our version of the truth. It will be our honest perception of that truth and it will be no better than anyone else's "truth"- even yours; however, it will also be no worse than your- or anyone else's- "truth" as far as we are concerned. We will, indeed, call it as we see it and, to paraphrase the Hall of Fame baseball umpire Bill Klem, "in our hearts, we will never call one wrong". Will we be fair? Yes- if, by "fair", one means we give our honest opinions- however misguided they might be- as to what the truth is... you can agree or disagree with our opinions and/or perceptions as you see fit. That's Freedom and that's America.
The Boston Herald currently has an ad campaign in which their current advertising slogan- "Someone's got to say it"- is plastered on large billboards about that city under such statements as "If you want sugar-coating, go out and buy a donut". These pithy statements, I find, are merely another, simpler way of stating the basis of the underlying philosophy behind the above quote from this site's Mission Statement; therefore, in keeping to said philosophy, I will not at all sugar-coat in this particular Commentary but, rather, will take the position that, even if I am the only one saying some of what you might read herein, someone- indeed- has got to say it and, in this case and at this time, it might as well be me.
There will be those of you who will find what is contained in this Commentary somewhat disagreeable where not somewhat disturbing; you who should do so might well criticize me for having so spoken out so when I do not, after all, have access to the most sensitive intelligence- foreign and domestic- being gathered by national security operatives as well as local law enforcement even as I type this; however, I honestly feel that I am educated enough about the global political situation as well as where American politics- which, after all, is this site's stated bailiwick- fits within that global context to not need the rawest data of intelligence (here meaning "collection of information and data") to catch at least the whiff of a relative lack of intelligence (here meaning "common sense" or "good judgment").
Further, there might very well be those of you reading this who may even see this Commentary as somewhat unpatriotic; but, to me, a high form of patriotism (though I would, of course, never claim it to be the highest) is to: a.) go about my daily business in the face of what these bullies did to my Country- to not give in to the fear these evildoers so wished to foster among me and my fellow Americans through the atrocities they committed last Tuesday- and my daily business as Researcher/Commentator for this website, after all, includes writing such Commentaries as this; b.) to, in spite of such barbaric acts, exercise the Civil Liberties I enjoy, not only as an American but as a Free Human Being- Liberties that were not, after all, granted to me by even the sovereign governments of my own State and Nation but which were, as the Declaration of Independence itself states, "endowed by [my] Creator" to me- two of which are Freedom of Speech and of the Press. And I do hereby willingly exercise both.
The type of war the United States of America, with or without any coalition of allied Nation-States it can put together, will now have to wage against International Terrorism will, as a matter of course, have to ofttimes get rather nasty: this campaign cannot be fought, at all times and in all places, by Marquess of Queensbury-type "rules" found in somewhat dusty International Conventions datelined Geneva and the Hague. At the same time, we must- as much as is practicable- keep to the requirements of the justest of causes and, where we find we must- unfortunately- stray from the true path of the noblest of crusades, we had better make sure that any such less than desirable manner of achieving the Right makes the resultant small-'w' wrongs well worth the price of having to have committed them. For example, it is all well and good to pass new legislation letting the leash out a bit as regards the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency; but, if having so let out that leash again leads to such tomfoolery as utilizing exploding cigars in hopes of so cleanly and covertly assassinating an undesirable leader of another Nation, then having done so becomes quite counterproductive to the battle which now must be waged.
Much is now being made of the so-called "Torricelli Principle"- in which, apparently, New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli convinced the last [Clinton] Administration to institute a policy of not using persons with criminal records as intelligence sources and/or operatives without approval from the highest levels within the Central Intelligence Agency- as having tied the hands of the CIA in gathering the kind of intelligence that might very well have prevented what happened last week; the argument against the "Torricelli Principle" is that, as a result of its implementation, agents in the field saw no use in pursuing certain less than desirable methods of intelligence gathering with such high-level oversight as was now required. I'm very sorry- but this is merely the intelligence equivalent of the troops having the unmitigated gall of telling their commanders what ought to be done!
There is- and, after all, must be- a Chain of Command within the National Security apparatus just as there is in the Military which it supplements and supports. One of the hallmarks of the American governmental scheme is civilian control of the Military and, by extension, those responsible for National Security- it is just such civilian control that kept the American Revolution, unlike so many other Revolutions throughout History, from turning on itself; the Constitution clearly states, at the very beginning of Article II, Section 2: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States": this might make things bloody inconvenient at times (to once again quote- as I had in a previous Commentary- a line from an episode of the TV series Law & Order: "The Constitution- that pesky thing!") but it remains just such a hallmark of our political system- and an important one at that.
Likewise, while it might very well be helpful to pass legislation allowing more leeway for, say, the use of wiretapping and providing for law enforcement's more easily tracking the cell phone numbers of persons under surveillance as they change, if such laws come to be used as a device through which to ferment an eventual clampdown on Civil Liberties in general, then those who have caused the death and destruction at both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September will have won- for they will have then destroyed America by successfully diverting our Nation, in its own zeal to wreak vengeance on those allied with the perpetrators of this awful crime against Humanity, from the very principles that have long made America a concept worth fighting for in the first place.
In addition, we have to be very careful as regards the actual military targets of our wrath- those we define, now and in the future, as the Enemy in this new kind of war: if it makes sense to go after, say, a Saddam Hussein in the name of putting a large dent in International Terrorism, it had better be just that- for, if attacking Iraq is merely the settling of a score a decade or more old, then we have- indeed- strayed rather wide from the path of what would otherwise be a just and noble cause. Likewise, if the fervor of patriotism currently being displayed across the length and breadth of the United States of America in the wake of last week's tragedies eventually degenerates into an abject jingoism, then it will be those who took the lives of many thousands- and not ourselves- who will have won the victory, no matter how successful our military and national security activities.
We also cannot successfully counter Terrorism by resorting to the terrorizing of others- both here at home as well as abroad. I hear commentators and pundits talking openly about "punishing" Afghani and Iraqi civilians for not having risen up and overthrown the heinous governments under which they live. It is one thing for there to be unavoidable collateral casualties among civilians as the unfortunate byproduct of a legitimate military operation seeking to root out and seize those who would do such a thing as that which we all saw on our television screens last Tuesday; it is quite another, however, to openly target whole populations of those Nation-States in which terrorists are, or have been, harbored and succored. These Nation-States are certainly not Democracies, no matter how many times the word "Republic" appears on the official documents put out by their Governments; the news these peoples receive is rigidly controlled and fraught with propaganda, there has been massive miseducation of the children and, even where more than a few might actually know the truth of what is really going on, to assume that all the people therein have somehow evaded their responsibilities- in the form of some kind of rational choice in their exercise of Political Will or lack thereof- is the sheerest of folly. If we proceed with our war on International Terrorism on the basis of a rationale such as this, we will have failed in the long run even should we emerge victorious militarily.
The same goes for how we Americans conduct ourselves at home: America was NOT attacked by Islam but rather by a minority of radical fanatics within Islam who have (mis)used the portions of the Qur'an justifying "Holy War" for their own twisted ends. Lest anyone immersed in Judeo-Christian tradition think themselves well above such things, let me remind them that portions of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) itself can, likewise, be used to justify just such a "Holy War" and, after all, what is the main subject of the Christian Book of Revelations (the Apocalypse) in the New Testament but the ultimate in "Holy War"s?
Scattered across this Nation are officeholders who profess the Muslim faith: some of these have been duly elected by their constituents, many of these hold their office by virtue of political appointment; however, all- regardless of the method by which they have achieved their current stations- have taken the same oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and of their respective States of the Union and to faithfully discharge the powers and duties of their offices according to Law that their non-Muslim colleagues have also taken. Likewise, when blood is spilled- as it almost certainly will be- in this upcoming war on International Terrorism, some of that blood will actually be coming from the bodies of Muslims who will happen to be wearing American military uniforms or at least will have U.S. Government-issued "dog tags".
Those who (mis)use their own anger over what happened on 11 September to justify attacking and otherwise terrorizing Muslims here in the United States- whether citizen or resident alien- are, at best, morons and, at worst, as barbaric as those who gave the orders to hijack those airplanes last Tuesday morning, those who carried out said orders and those who commandeered control of those planes: I have no problem nor fear writing what I have just written because those who would place those who practice Islam within our Nation's borders in such unnecessary fear for their safety will not be reading this Commentary as it would take a great leap of faith to assume they had even learned how to read in the first place! Nothing but a complete lack of intelligence (as in "common sense" and "good judgment") could account for such atrocious stupidity, the basest form of which appears to have been the apparent recent murder of a gas station owner in Arizona who happened to be a Sikh- not even a Muslim!- simply because he was wearing a turban!!
The very day I am typing this (17 September) marks six days after the terrorist attacks on our Nation but it also marks the Anniversary of an even more profound event: the approval- 214 years earlier- of the final draft of the Constitution of the United States, a Constitution which provided for a system through which the document could be amended: one of the Amendments adopted via that process is the 1st which states that "Congress shall make no Law respecting an Establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the Free Exercise thereof"; another is the 14th, which provides that "No State shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws". I truly hope that any person who is the victim of such anti-Muslim harassment is so equally protected in their Free Exercise of their Religion and that those who perpetrate such acts against Muslims are hunted down like the dogs they are and then swiftly prosecuted and punished for their crimes; again, if we fail to do this, we will have strayed well off the path of the just and noble cause.
I would like to close this piece with a few personal observations: my wife and I left our house in North Central New Jersey last Tuesday morning for what we both hoped would be a quiet and rather uneventful week's vacation in my native New England- we had no sooner gotten the car out of our driveway when the first bulletins about the first jetliner hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center came over our car radio. Like many, I suppose, we both assumed that this was some kind of terrible accident- a plane inadvertently off course or, due to instrument or pilot error, flying much too low. The second airliner slamming into the South Tower, of course, quickly convinced us both- as I am certain it convinced many- that this was, indeed, no accident!
As we drove north along New Jersey's Interstate 287 some 15 to 20 minutes after the second jet hit, I caught what would be the last glimpse I would ever see of the Twin Towers peeking over a hill behind and slightly to the right of me, a very large plume of thick smoke billowing out from both of them in a direction generally away from my own. Only minutes after they were no longer visible to me, as we got onto the New York Thruway, the report came that the South Tower had collapsed, followed not too long thereafter by the North Tower, and with the catastrophic results the vast majority of us now so deeply mourn.
The terrorist attacks of 11 September are, of course, an American tragedy, indeed a World tragedy- an attack on Civilization itself, an attack on Humanity; but the portion of those attacks that adversely affected the World Trade Center are something of a personal tragedy for me. Not that I lost anyone I know personally (at least as far as I know as of this writing)- in fact, I currently know of only one minor injury among personal contacts, that involving a former co-worker of my wife's who was struck in the back by something in the massive dust cloud created by the collapse of one of the Twin Towers, a dust cloud from which she was trying to get away as she was forced to run near her apartment in Lower Manhattan; but lost was an icon of the New York skyline with which I have so long been familiar.
I can close my eyes even as I type this and still see the slight downgrade along Vesey Street as one would approach the entrance beneath the now-collapsed # 5 WTC- the low lying building tucked into the northeast corner of the WTC Plaza; this was the entrance to the complex which I would usually find myself entering and exiting- it led directly to "PATH Square" where, slightly more than two decades ago, I would catch a quick breakfast in the one-time "Big Kitchen" on my way to work as a credit manager in Manhattan's TriBeCa section. Three weeks to the day before the Twin Towers collapsed, I was shopping in a multi-level bookstore built into # 5: how hard it was for me to see- on TV- the flames pouring out from that corner of the complex against the outline of the remains of that building as dusk fell last Tuesday; I was actually standing on the platform of the now-destroyed terminus of PATH's Downtown service less than 70 hours before its destruction: I had been attending the "Try Transit Festival" at the NJTransit railroad terminal in Hoboken, NJ on Saturday the 8th and decided to, once more, admire the engineering marvel of the underwater tunnels built by William McAdoo's Hudson and Manhattan Railroad less than a century ago; it was destined to be the last time I would ride through the original "Hudson Tubes", at least for quite a while- if not forever.
Lest those reading this think I wax too rhapsodic about a mere building and its accompanying subway and, thus, have much forgotten the human dimension of this episode, let me make it as clear as I can that it is, of course, this human dimension that makes this an atrocity. Although I don't know anyone personally who was killed or severely injured in any of the atrocities- whether at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon or aboard the four planes involved (including that which crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania), I cannot imagine that everyone living in my own Morris County, New Jersey escaped injury or death; it is, instead, quite likely that someone known by someone I myself know or at least know of- or someone who once lived on a street I have often driven on and/or walked along- is among the dead, the dying or the still unaccounted for-- especially in the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Until some 2 1/2 years ago, in fact, my own wife worked on the 27th floor of the South Tower and she was, thus, a survivor of the terrorist bomb that went off in the complex's parking garage on Friday 26 February 1993- an event that now seems so oddly trivial compared to this most recent destruction at WTC; yet I still well remember what it was like to not know- for what seemed like an eternity, even though it was, in reality, only a few hours- where my wife was or even if she was still alive, let alone uninjured: due to a strange combination of blind luck and odd happenstance, I soon (though not soon enough for me) found out about her whereabouts and also happily found her uninjured. I cannot, of course, imagine what the families and friends of those still missing are now going through-- I am sure my own brief anxious experience of more than 8 1/2 years ago is multiplied more than a hundredfold and then combined with brave attempts to maintain hope while yet coming to terms with the inevitable as that hope begins to fade; however, my own indirect experience with what is seen now as a much milder act of terrorism at the same site does give me a rather horrifying glimpse into just what those feelings might be like and my heart wrenches at the very thought.
We Americans all have every right and reason to be angry-- VERY angry! But we must not let our response to such anger as we now feel destroy all that is good in the American spirit. We must try our best not to hate those who hate us but, instead, to bring them to Justice- even where such Justice might very well have to be executed more like that of a guerilla war- or the Frontier! And we must do so in such a way that we do not, in the end, destroy ourselves.