President Bush was quite right when he called the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, acts of war. They were. But they were not the first acts of a new war. Rather, they were simply a tragic and barbaric escalation in a war the United States has been fighting abroad for decades, suddenly and horrifically brought home.
This is the fallout of US meddling in the Middle East, our continued war of sanctions against the civilians of Iraq, our blind support of Israel's ethnic cleansing in the "occupied territories," and our active support of Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan during the Cold War.
These foreign-policy sins, of course, do not excuse the unforgivable acts of mass murder unleashed on America. Nor do they diminish the acts of heroism we have seen from those who died trying to save the victims and trying to prevent more deaths.
But we cannot forget that all this never would have happened had the United States minded its own business. If we do not learn this lesson, we can expect the war in which we are now engaged to continue with no end in sight.
The first casualty in war is the truth, and this war is no different.
The same individuals and groups in the United States who have been spoiling for a war any war since the fall of the Soviet Union have turned their propaganda engines on full.
The neoconservative Fox News Channel aired a report that purported to answer the one question no one else dared ask: Why does the Arab world hate us so? Unfortunately, the "answer" delivered was nothing more than a thinly veiled justification for genocide.
We are told that Muslim fundamentalists hate us because we are rich, free, and, by their standards, "decadent." But this is sophistry.
By Islamic standards, there are many countries that should qualify for such hatred. But only the US and Israel face terrorist threats. And when Muslim extremists do attack targets in other countries, Americans and American property are invariably the targets.
Japan is almost as rich as America. Its consumer culture is arguably even more "decadent" than ours is. Logically speaking, Muslim extremists should hate Japan's dominant, non-theistic religion even more than they hate Christianity. But Japan doesn't fear Islamic terrorism. The Japanese, in fact, need only fear homegrown terrorists, like those who launched a poison gas attack several years ago.
The difference between America and Japan is that America is a global empire, while Japan is, to use that old smear, "isolationist."
It is simply arrogance on our part to think that the Arab world hates us for our virtues freedom and capitalism. You would have to be a fool or a contributor to the Ayn Rand Institute to believe such nonsense.
That kind of thinking, however, is what warmongers like Bill Kristol and Sen. John McCain want and encourage. Because if America is hated for its virtues, then America has no choice but to wage Total War until the Arab world is brought to its knees and made nothing more than an American protectorate. After all, we can't very well sacrifice our virtues, can we?
No doubt, Muslim fundamentalists do hate the values our Founding Fathers tried to instill in us, but that isn't the kind of hatred that drives people to sacrifice themselves in kamikaze attacks. The kind of hatred that drives people to murder and die requires more tangible inspiration.
Every time an innocent child dies in Iraq because of the American-backed embargo, the Arab world finds another tangible reason to hate America. And the same can be said every time an American-funded bulldozer in Israel demolishes some Palestinian family's home.
It isn't our virtues that got us into this mess it is our sins. America has become an empire. Through its attempts to dictate to the rest of the world, it has created many enemies, and not only among the Arabs and Muslims. And until we give up our empire and return to our republican roots, we cannot expect peace.
The escalation has only just begun.
We will retaliate. We will drop bombs, and we will probably kill more innocent civilians than died on Sept. 11. The terrorists will respond in their own way. They may use biological or even nuclear weapons. All it takes is a boat sailing into some American port city and a detonation, and we will have tens if not hundreds of times the casualties we have already seen.
America will then retaliate again. And so on.
The president is right. We are at war. We are at war with fanatics who will not surrender, who have no territory to take and hold. And many of our own leaders have global designs.
This is war, all right. It is war without end.
September 17, 2001