Everyone acknowledges that Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on New York and Washington were acts of war. But, liberal commentators have been quick to object, we do not know whom to attack, how to attack, or how to escape a so-called “cycle of violence.” They have raised these issues, not as problems to be solved, but as impenetrable complexities that make a full-scale war-as opposed to pin-prick strikes-impossible.

This is the great danger that we now face: that our nation’s resolve will be blunted and our response made impotent by the liberal intellectuals’ attempt to obfuscate these issues. The immediate, gut-level reaction of the American people is unequivocal. They want war. But to carry through on that intention requires more than one’s gut; it requires thorough, logical, long-range thinking. We must have a clear grasp of the means, ends, and morality of the war we are about to wage.

First, we must not regard these attacks as a criminal matter, to be answered by criminal investigation through the courts. Yes, we should investigate Tuesday’s attacks-but only to figure out whom to place at number one on our list of military targets.

Moreover, these perpetrators must be only the first on a very long list. We must recognize that America has decades of unfinished business, from the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barrack in Beirut, to the 1988 Pan Am bombing, to the Air Force barracks flattened in Saudi Arabia in 1996. The terrorists who committed these acts and the states who sponsored them must discover that our justice, which has slept, is now awakened.

It does not matter that some of these governments did not support this particular attack. Think of its this way: Suppose that a crowd of innocent bank customers is slaughtered during a mob heist; then a police chief is assassinated by a mob hit man; and these attacks follow a series of bombings conducted by mob extortionists. Would we content ourselves with taking these cases piecemeal? Or would we form a task force to wipe out organized crime as a whole, including all of its various syndicates? Today, we must form a military task force to wipe out all of the syndicates, posing as governments, who are behind the crime wave of international terrorism.

As our first step, we must eliminate the terrorist headquarters and training camps which are spread throughout Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Sudan. We must also attack the governments of these countries, which, through their decades of support for terrorists, have demonstrated that that they cannot be trusted to make peace. These governments must be deposed, their leaders killed or captured and tried in the US for their crimes, and they must be replaced with new regimes under the control of the United States.

But, it has been asked, if we are to attack all of the nations that have harbored terrorists, are we really capable of such a massive task? The answer is that we must threaten our enemies with a level of force so awesome that no nation in the Middle East can resist us. We must be prepared to use nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons were first employed to secure the surrender of Japan, sparing the lives of hundreds of thousands of US troops. If any terrorist nation chooses to resist our demands, we must be prepared to use these horrific weapons once again, with the same justification. Sparing our civilians and soldiers from mass death is precisely the purpose for which we maintain our nuclear arsenal. If we are not willing to use it now, then our nuclear deterrent becomes a hollow threat.

Here the liberals will make their most dishonest objection: that the use of such massive force will merely escalate a “cycle of violence.” This evades the fact that Tuesday’s attacks are the result of decades of turning the other cheek to evil, a policy that merely emboldened the terrorists. This is the real “cycle of violence.”

Even worse, liberals will balk at the prospect of civilians casualties in enemy countries. By this standard, however, the allies could not have fought Hitler, for fear of killing German civilians. It is obvious that such a pacifist philosophy would require a total surrender to evil.

Yes, a full-scale war will be horrific. But war is supposed to be horrific-so horrific that our enemies cannot endure it and will not dare to repeat it.

We must be clear, however, that our purpose is not mere vengeance. The goal of this war is to eliminate a threat against civilization. And to fully achieve that goal, we must not merely remove the leaders currently in power. We must impose on these terrorist nations a continuing, ongoing American control. We must send in ground troops and undertake a military occupation of the Middle East, ensuring that no organization can form and operate for the purpose of planning attacks against the United States.

To those who recoil at the prospect of imposing martial law on a hostile territory, I will point out that the alternative is to impose a police state within our own borders. Indeed, liberal commentators are already suggesting that we respond to terrorism by sacrificing our civil rights to achieve some alleged defensive security. We must instead take away the freedom of those who, through their support of terrorist attacks, have already forfeited their rights.

Nuclear weapons, military occupation, martial law. These may seem like radical measures-but only because we have not been forced to use them for more than 50 years. Yet all of this is precisely the remedy we imposed on Japan at then end of World War II. This is what a real war looks like.

As much as liberal commentators might try to evade it, we are now engaged in a very real, protracted, all-out war. It is time to wake up to that reality, to accept the grim task ahead, and to prosecute it to the end.

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Robert W Tracinski

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to TIADaily.com and enter your email address.