An Act of War, Not a Crime

This is no time to be wringing our hands. We have to treat this as an act of war.

Share on Nextdoor
I write this just three hours after the most ungodly terrorist attack in the history of the world. By the time you read it, you'll know much more than I do now.

That being said, the story can't be ignored here, because this is a local newspaper. And this is a very local story.

If it turns out that the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings in New York and part of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., proves to be the handiwork of international terrorists -- as all signs indicate now -- then America wasn't simply victimized by a hideous crime.

This would be an act of war.

It doesn't really matter that it's a war we don't want with an enemy we barely know. It's war, and that changes a lot of rules.

This is no Vietnam. We're the ones under attack here -- as much in St. Louis as in New York City -- and if it's our foreign policy in the Middle East that's the rationale for that attack, the enemy will not find the American people torn asunder as they were, rightfully, in the 1960s.

This time, a nation largely ambivalent about the Middle East will likely become much more energized and united behind what otherwise might be debatable policies in the region. This is also no Gulf War -- a 50-50 proposition, if you recall (and opposed here) -- for many of the same reasons it's no Vietnam.

Last week, the United States and Israel were the only nations to walk out of the United Nations Conference on Racism in protest of its condemnation of Israel: two nations out of more than 160, isolated in the world over a topic that didn't register on the radar of an overwhelmingly majority of Americans.

Guess what? Thanks to Tuesday's events, the U.S. and Israel won't be finding themselves so isolated in the world, and the enemies of Israel have gotten Americans' undivided attention. That may not turn out to serve them so well in the end.

Just hours after the attacks, it was reported by the Associated Press that thousands of Palestinians celebrated in the streets of Nablus, in the West Bank, "distributing candy to passers-by." Before that backdrop, presumed leader Yasser Arafat's expressions of sympathy and horror seemed a tad hollow.

It is our nature -- the best part of our nature -- that we focus primarily on the victims and their families, on the horror of what has happened to them. But after we bury our dead, tend the wounded and grieve our losses, the world may see a different America emerge.

Once it's determined who is responsible, those who did it and those who cheer them may get a look at the worst part of our nature. They certainly deserve to.

This isn't like anything else that's happened before. Last year's bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen; the car-bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; the explosion of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988; the suicide bombing of Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 -- all of these and other terrorist incidents were distant and random acts of nonsense that angered Americans but only remained emotionally riveting for a news cycle.

Even the bombing of the World Trade Center parking garage in 1993 -- killing six and wounding more than 1,000 -- didn't hit home with the entire nation quite like Tuesday's act of war. Yes, it showed that terrorism could happen here, but we really knew that anyway, and the attack still seemed random and almost impossible to counteract without simply provoking an endless cycle of further violence.

This one's different. This time, a frightfully competent enemy turned what we thought were virtually hijack-proof airliners into missiles in their arsenal, murdering hundreds and perhaps thousands of innocents and aiming a dagger at our national heart.

This is no time to wring our hands and bemoan the impossibility of it all. We have to treat this as an act of war.

As a people, we have no quarrel with the Muslim world -- and by no means should any ire be turned on the millions of Muslims in this country who are every bit as much American as anyone else -- but this was essentially a military attack on our nation. This is not a time to focus on defensive measures against isolated terrorist activity.

It's time to go on offense.

If there must be a jihad -- a Muslim holy war against nonbelievers -- and these people insist on making us its primary target -- then let's give them the best jihad-in-return that a $300 billion-plus military budget can buy. And I say that as a past, current and future opponent of our nation's mindless and distorted overspending on defense.

Tuesday, the London Guardian quoted an Arab journalist saying, "Saudi exile Osama bin Laden warned three weeks ago that his group would carry out an unprecedented attack on U.S. interests for its support of Israel." It is believed bin Laden's organization is one of a tiny few with the sophistication and capability to have pulled off the concerted hijackings and murders.

If it turns out to be bin Laden, part of our response has to be simple and direct: He dies. He isn't scorned or condemned in the court of world opinion; he isn't apprehended for trial in a court of law.

That's what happens after a crime, not after an act of war. If he and his organization did this, Bin Laden dies. If that makes him a martyr, so be it. If there are others who will carry on his legacy, so be it. Bin Laden isn't plotted against or threatened. He dies.

Also, the U.S. should redouble its commitment to supporting Israel, regardless of the fact that many of its actions against the Palestinians have understandably received lukewarm support at best in this country. It would a fitting legacy of this act of cowardice if it turns out to make America a real enemy of the Muslim extremists, not the largely passive perceived enemy that it was before Tuesday.

Internally there are many issues to be addressed, beginning with the stunning failure of our intelligence community, but if our response is to look inward at what our defensive posture might be in the future, we're looking in the wrong direction. We don't need fewer liberties at home.

But we've got some new business to do abroad.

Scroll to read more Hartmann articles (1)


Join Riverfront Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.