By Charles Krauthammer, September 12, 2001
This is not crime. This is war. One of the reasons there are terrorists out there
capable and audacious enough to carry out the deadliest attack on the United
States in its history is that, while they have declared war on us, we have in the
past responded (with the exception of a few useless cruise missile attacks on
empty tents in the desert) by issuing subpoenas.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s first reaction to the day of infamy was to
pledge to “bring those responsible to justice.” This is exactly wrong. Franklin
Roosevelt responded to Pearl Harbor by pledging to bring Japan to its knees. He
did not pledge to bring the commander of Japanese naval aviation to trial.
The U.S. folly was Lockerbie. The West spent a decade bringing two peons to
stand trial for the murder of hundreds of Americans on Pan Am flight 103. It
was flabby, legalistic and absurd. It set a terrible example, and issued an
invitation to terrorists to carry their war to the United States.
The bombings of Sept. 11, 2001, must mark a turning point. War was long ago
declared on the United States. Until the U.S. declares war in return, America
shall have thousands of more innocent victims. We no longer have to search for
a name for the post-Cold War era. It will henceforth be known as the age of
Organized terror has shown what it can do: execute the single greatest
massacre in American history, shut down the greatest power on the globe, and
send its leaders into underground shelters. All this, without even resorting to
chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
This is a formidable enemy. To dismiss it as a bunch of ‘cowards’ perpetrating
‘senseless acts of violence’ is complacent nonsense. People willing to kill
thousands of innocents while they kill themselves are not cowards. They are
deadly, vicious warriors and need to be treated as such.
Nor are their acts of violence senseless. They have a very specific aim:
To avenge alleged historical wrongs and to bring the great American satan to its
Nor is the enemy faceless or mysterious. We do not know for sure who
gave the final order, but we know what movement it comes from. The enemy
has identified itself in public and openly. Our delicate sensibilities have
prevented us from pronouncing its name.
Its name is radical Islam. Not Islam as practiced peacefully by millions of the
faithful around the world. But a specific fringe political movement, dedicated to
imposing its fanatical ideology on its own societies and destroying the society
of its enemies, the greatest of which is the United States. Israel, too, is an
affront to radical Islam, and thus of course must be eradicated. But it is the
smallest of fish.
For this fringe group, the heart of the beast–with its military in Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Turkey and the Persian Gulf; with a culture that “corrupts” Islamic
youth; with an economy and technology that dominate the world–is the United
States. That is why we were struck so savagely.
How do we know? Who else trains cadres of fanatical suicide murderers who
go to their deaths smiling, as did the suicide bomber in Beirut who drove his
truck into the Marine barracks, killing 240 Americans in 1982? Why do they
smile? Because they are dying not out of desperation but out of conviction.
They have been taught to believe that murder/martyrdom gives them
immunity from pain and gives them immediate entry to heaven, where 71
black-eyed virgins await their pleasure. Of course, this sounds grotesque. But
we must not avert our eyes from facts.
And the fact is that the average terrorist does not coordinate four hijackings
within one hour. Nor fly a plane into the tiny silhouette of a single building. For
that, you need skilled pilots seeking martyrdom. That is not a large pool to draw
from. These are the shock troops of the enemy.
And the enemy has many branches. Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and
Islamic Jihad in Israel, the Osama bin Laden organization headquartered in
Afghanistan, and various Arab “liberation fronts” based in Damascus.
And then there are the governments: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya among
them. Which one was responsible for our Pearl Harbor? We will find out soon
But when we do, there should be no talk of bringing these people to “swift
justice,” as Karen Hughes dismayingly promised mid-afternoon yesterday in the
first official word to come out of the White House. An open act of war
demands a military response, not a judicial one.
But a military response against whom? It is absurd to make war on the
individuals who send these people. The terrorists cannot exist in a vacuum.
They need a territorial base of sovereign protection.
For 30 years, we have avoided this truth. If bin Laden was behind this, then
Afghanistan is our enemy. Any country that harbors and protects him is our
enemy. We must carry their war to them.
We should seriously consider a Congressional declaration of war. That
convention seems quaint, unused since the Second World War. But there are
two virtues to declaring war: (1) It announces our seriousness both to our
people and to the enemy, and (2) It gives us certain rights as belligerents (of
blockade, for example) that we would not otherwise have.
The “long peace” is over. We sought this war no more than we sought war
with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan–or Cold War with the Soviet Union. But
when war was pressed upon the greatest generation, it rose to the challenge.
The question is: Will we?
“It is a question that many Israelis wanted to ask yesterday of America and the
rest of the finger-pointing world. Not in a smart-alecky manner. Not to say, ‘We
told you so.’ It was simply a question for those who, at a safe remove from the
terrorism that Israelis face every day, have damned Israel for taking admittedly
harsh measures to keep its citizens alive.
“Suppose I had intelligence reports telling me that someone was going to
hijack a Boeing 757 and crash it into the World Trade Center,” an Israeli official
said yesterday. “And suppose I used an M-16 to kill him. According to
arguments being used against us, I’d be an assassin, illegally using American
Correspondent Clyde Haberman (New York Times, Sept. 12)
“Now that it has happened to us, the White House is not calling for ‘restraint’.
The State Department is not concerned about ‘escalating the cycle of violence’.
There are no editorials imploring the parties to conduct a ‘peace process’ and
‘sit down at the negotiating table’.
Now that it has happened to us, the TV anchors are calling them
terrorists, not ‘militants’ or ‘activists’. Washington is not being warned to avoid
a ‘provocative’ response, or cautioned against retaliation that is ‘excessive and
disproportionate’. Now that it has happened to us, our eyes have finally
Columnist Jeff Jacoby (Boston Globe, Sept. 13)
“I don’t doubt Arafat’s shock. And I don’t think he had anything directly to do
with the monstrous evil of Sept. 11. But this evil rose, with hideous logic,
directly from the philosophy that the leaders and supporters of the Palestinian
cause have long embraced and still embrace – a philosophy that accepts the
murder of innocents as a legitimate expression of a legitimate struggle.
If it is morally acceptable to murder, in the name of a necessary blow for
freedom, a woman on a Tel Aviv street, or to blow up a disco full of teenagers,
or to bomb a family restaurant – then it must be morally acceptable to drive two
jetliners into a place where 50,000 people work.”
Columnist Michael Kelly (Washington Post, Sept. 12)