How To Make a Real War on Terrorism

by | Sep 12, 2001

In the past, the United States has always tried to be “proportional” in its response to terrorism. A terrorist group blows up a U.S. embassy somewhere, and we make a measured response: We blow up a terrorist training base or we hit a bomb factory. And that, we say, is that. Does this impress the […]

In the past, the United States has always tried to be “proportional” in its response to terrorism. A terrorist group blows up a U.S. embassy somewhere, and we make a measured response: We blow up a terrorist training base or we hit a bomb factory. And that, we say, is that. Does this impress the terrorists? Does it scare them? Does it deter them? No, of course not.

The terrorists play by one set of rules, and we play by another. They blow up an airliner full of innocent civilians, and we huff and puff for years trying to bring some of the low-level perpetrators to trial. The terrorist attack is always as massive and horrific as the terrorists can manage. The purpose of terrorism, after all, is to create terror.

But the U.S. response is always muted and as “surgical” as it can be.

Why? Because we are the good guys, we say. And this is one way you can tell the good guys from the bad.

Now, terrorists have launched a highly coordinated, highly skilled, highly successful mass attack on the United States, blowing up the World Trade Center, setting the Pentagon on fire, hijacking civilians and killing thousands. As I type this, we do not know who the perpetrators are. We do know that about three weeks ago, arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden bragged that he would make “a huge and unprecedented attack” on the United States.

People are saying this attack is another Pearl Harbor. Actually, it is far worse. Pearl Harbor was a military target; the World Trade Center was a civilian one. We knew who attacked Pearl Harbor; we do not know who attacked New York and Washington.

President Bush immediately pledged to “hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” But the United States always says that. We always talk about a war against terrorism, but we never actually make war on terrorism.

If this is now to be war, however, then we must make it a war. And our armed response to it must be prolonged, repeated, devastating and non-proportional. (Were the atom bombs we dropped on Japan proportional to Pearl Harbor? Hardly. Some 2,403 U.S. servicemen and civilians died at Pear Harbor. In Hiroshima, the United States killed 118,661, and at Nagasaki we killed 73,884.)

Terrorist groups live somewhere. They are trained somewhere. They plan somewhere. They get money and arms funneled to them somewhere. That somewhere must be our target. The nations that hide terrorists, that give aid and comfort to terrorists, must be prepared to be destroyed in response.

Yes, innocent civilians will die. Just as innocent civilians died in the Allied bombing raids in Hamburg and Dresden; just as innocent civilians died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That is what war is. We need world leaders to say to terrorists, “No you cannot use my country for sanctuary, because then my people, my palace, my family, my life may be destroyed in return.”

Shortly after the attacks on New York and Washington, a U.S. leader said: “These were not just crimes against the United States, they are acts of war. We will prevail in this war, as we have prevailed in the past. May God bless us in this trial, defend us, and make our justice swift and sure.” That was not President Bush talking. That was John McCain issuing a statement. McCain, a war veteran, knows war when he sees it.

Can we still be the good guys? Yes, our goal is still peace and democracy and freedom from fear for the whole world. But sometimes we need to show we can play just as rough as the bad boys.

Because if the attack of Sept. 11 has taught us anything, it has taught us that sometimes good guys don’t just finish last, they finish dead.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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