Before any response to the World Trade Center attack is made there is one question which must be asked. Will it make Americans safer?
Regrettably, initial responses fail to adequately analyze why these attacks took place, and risk a response which will not make the world a safer place, but only lead to more of the same. In fact, US response threatens to be the same as for virtually every failed government program: keep pursuing the exact same failed program, but double its budget.
In the wake of the horrible attack, too many people are using words to describe the attacks such as “random,” and “unprovoked.” While it is easy to understand why people want to characterize them as such, the attacks were anything but random. The Pentagon and Trade Center were large high-profile targets, symbols and instruments of American global hegemony.
Nothing can justify the slaughter of innocent civilians (by either side), but calling the attacks “unprovoked” tends to lessen our understanding of why these attacks probably took place. In his address President Bush declared that “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” With respect, however, it is almost certainly NOT the case, that the Pentagon was attacked because there is too much freedom in the United States.
Many have been comparing the attacks to the “unprovoked attack” on Pearl Harbor, but in the conflict with Japan was far from “unprovoked,” in that the US and Japan had been in conflict in the Pacific for years.
So too with the recent attacks in New York. While they were not justifiable, they were far from unprovoked (two terms people tend to confuse). If the attacks did involve Osama Bin Laden or some of his people, did not the United States launch a missile attack against him in an attempt to kill him? Isn't that a provocation? Might that not have emboldened him to take even more aggressive action? Did the retaliatory missile attacks on Afghanistan and the civilian drug plant in Sudan make Americans more safe or less safe?
Will lashing out militarily, now, make the US safer or only escalate the circle of violence? I am not advocating pacificism but “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones,” and the US is a glass society which has very little to gain and very much to lose by escalating the rock throwing.
I would posit that for years now the federal government has been pursuing a “War on Terrorism,” but that it has been no more successful than its “War on Drugs” or “War on Poverty.” The result of each of these wars has been an expansion of government power, restriction of liberty and very little progress to show for it.
The Twentieth Century was characterized by the attitude “bigger is better.” Countries and individuals were in constant competition to build bigger buildings, bigger bridges, bigger ships, bigger schools, bigger cities and ever bigger government to pay for them and to protect us. But those bigger buildings and bigger schools have simply become targets for criminals all types, and the bigger government has proved impotent to protect us.
In recent years the power and budget of the FBI — particularly with hundreds of new overseas offices — has ballooned. All that new money and power was supposed to protect us, but it clearly failed. For all of the US government's money, power and technology, it was defeated by a small group of men whose weapons appear to have been no more sophisticated than a razor blade.
Before the US puts more money into bigger militaries, bigger security agencies and bigger body counts, we had better take a step back and consider just what US policies may have provoked these attacks.
The United States is an imperial power, with soldiers or security personnel in virtually every country on earth. Through diplomatic, economic and military power the United States regularly interferes in the internal affairs of countries around the world. Far too many people equate military and political hegemony with greatness.
Nearly two thousand years ago St. Augustine in criticizing those who wished to try to maintain the Roman Empire wrote:
What reason, what prudence is there in wishing to glory and greatness and extent of empire? … Let us suppose the case of two men … one is poor, or rather of middling circumstances; the other very rich. But the rich man is anxious with fears, always pining with discontent, burning with covetousness, never secure, always uneasy. . . . But the other man of moderate wealth is content with small and compact estate, most dear to his own family, enjoying the sweetest peace with his kindred neighbors and friends . . . so in two families, in two nations, in two kingdoms, this test of tranquility holds good.
Augustine's words remain as true today as in 400 AD. What good is it to be an imperial power when the result is less freedom, higher taxes and less security? Probably the single greatest thing that can be done to prevent future attacks is for the United States to abandon interventionism and mind its own business.
Of course, I do not expect anyone in power to heed these words, and fully expect that public opinion will equate disengagement with letting the terrorists win. Unfortunately public opinion often places “winning” or “saving face” over saving lives. Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen on “Good Morning America” the day after the attack even said use of nuclear weapons might be justifiable in retaliation; and undoubtedly most Americans would see nothing immoral in the US incinerating thousands of helpless civilians if their government supported the attacks.
I can only hope and pray that those of us whose first allegiance and citizenship is to the City of God do not fall into the jingo-ism and bloodlust that often characterizes the City of Man after such an attack; and that we never forget that “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”
Paul Clark (email@example.com) is Director of Coalition for Local Sovereignty (www.localsov.com), a veteran of the Gulf War and also worked with the mujahadin in Afghanistan.
September 15, 2001