Let the Debate Continue

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I was a little puzzled about why some kind emailers called my recent article on 9/11 "heroic" and "courageous." Then, the hate mail came. Now I understand. Some people’s version of America is a country where you can say anything you want as long as you agree with them. If not, you are invited to leave the f___ing country. No thanks. I was born here and will die here. As I glance around the globe, there is no place I’d rather be. And to be perfectly honest with you, I have seen most of the United States and treasure it, but I like Buffalo just fine, thank you. Right now, it’s a beautiful late summer day, cool and sunny.

Those who have reacted with such rancor to my article, and similar articles by Lew Rockwell, Harry Browne, Justin Raimondo, and others, are confused and frustrated because they are unable to refute us. One does not "justify" terrorism by explaining its roots. When Milton Friedman argued that drug prohibition encourages drug dealers to murder each other, he was not morally justifying these murders. He was only offering a logical and empirical explanation for them. The view that terrorism is a reaction to prior violence by the state is a scientific judgment, not a moral one. Nor is it a knee-jerk reaction to the recent tragedy. We have all held such views for many years. I described terrorism as a reaction to prior governmental violence in a speech given in 1993. Am I barred from repeating this long-held belief now?

I have no moral or legal qualms about tracking down the co-conspirators and punishing them. The prospect of punishment, however, will not deter those who would fly a plane into a brick wall. Further, I have little confidence that the "war" now declared will be limited to bringing the perpetrators to justice. The larger-scale strike into the heart of the Islamic world now being planned by the War Party is likely to increase terrorism, short-term and long-term, and could very well evolve into a world war, even a nuclear war. In the meantime, war is the health of the state, and the government that failed us in the first place, stands to benefit with a tremendous surge of new powers and new taxes that will take decades to roll back.

These propositions are difficult to refute; hence, the rancorous response, short on argument, long on insults. Our opponents are thereby guilty of two logical fallacies: the ad hominem attack and begging the question (assuming as true that which was to be proven). They attack the man, not the argument. More importantly, in the process, they also implicitly beg the question. Assume for the sake of argument that we are right; that these terrorist attacks and others like them are the result of our decades-long policy of violent foreign intervention. Assume the corollary, that a wide-scale violent military response with lots of civilian casualties will only result in more terrorism. Now, on these assumptions, are we not duty-bound to speak out? Would we not be cowards and traitors to the republic we hold dear if we remained silent? Are not those who would savage us and invite us to leave the country the real enemies of that republic? If all that is true, then the rancorous response begs the question by assuming, without proving, that our views on the matter are false. I say, let the debate continue over the merits of our globally interventionist foreign policy and its role in encouraging terrorism, one-sided as that debate has been.

Watching the War Party gleefully gear up for a full-scale Middle East War, I am reminded that human technical prowess has far surpassed our moral and political competence. For thousands of years, people used brute force to get what they want from other people. Our prevailing political theories and philosophies are still based on the efficacy of governmental force. Recent events suggest that view is now obsolete. The World Trade Center could have been taken out by a modern air force with multimillion dollar missiles. It was in fact destroyed by a few fanatics with box cutters. Now, our political leadership plans to deal with utterly ruthless suicidal terrorists with brute force, a language they understand only when they are doing the "talking". These terrorists want us to use massive retaliatory force; many more of them want to die to become martyrs and to encourage more legions of suicidal terrorists. The use of force as a rational act implies some degree of superiority in its use vis-à-vis the enemy. The use of force makes little sense against those capable of using equal force against you and doing so with absolute ruthlessness. I believe these people will even use force against themselves if need be. If we do get anywhere close to the likely perpetrator, his people will kill him and display the body. With the villain dead, what do we do then?

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous — we are now hearing a mantra about the militant Islamic view of the United States. They hate us, we are told, not because of our concrete military and political interventions into the Islamic world for fifty years, but because they dislike our culture and our ideas. This line of argument is very clever. It is virtually impossible to refute. How would one refute it? A public opinion poll? "Would you fly into the WTC if the United States had not intervened into Middle East affairs for the last fifty years, just because you hate American culture?" Thank goodness that Western philosophy provides a procedural solution to the problem. He who asserts a proposition bears the burden of proof. If you claim the real enemy is Western culture, not the more obvious choice, American foreign policy, prove it! I await your arguments.

I prefer to apply Occam’s Razor here: “Never multiply explanations or make them more complicated than necessary." I prefer to believe that specific military and political interventions, known to have caused great aggravation among Arab and Islamic peoples in the Middle East, and not abstract philosophical quarrels, have caused these suicidal attacks. These attacks, from the point of view of the terrorists, could make future United States interventions less likely. They make far less sense if they are directed at Western capitalism, Christianity, rationalism, materialism, or even decadence. The only way to wipe out the entirety of Western culture is to exterminate the West entirely. The terrorists lack the means to do so, but they do face an enemy fully capable of wiping out their beloved Middle East. If it’s a philosophical fight to the last man, it makes no tactical or strategic sense, even from the demented terrorist’s point of view.

Ultimately, we can find out if the terrorists are targeting our cultural ideas or our foreign military and political misadventures. We can either (1) adopt a policy of non-intervention into the Middle East, or (2) lobotomize 280 million Americans. If you haven’t had a lobotomy recently, the choice is clear.

September 20, 2001

James Ostrowski is an attorney practicing at 984 Ellicott Square, Buffalo, New York 14203; (716) 854-1440; FAX 853-1303. See his website at http://jimostrowski.com.

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