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First thoughts on the first day of the new war

By Lawrence Henry
web posted September 24, 2001

In one of Theodore Sturgeon's science fiction novels, the writer imagines an alien civilization planning to infect the earth with a virus. The plot backfires. Instead, the virus wakes up an antibody that unites the world in repelling the invader.

Something like that has obviously happened in the last week to the United States. When a nail-chewing conservative like me can listen to a dyed-in-the-brain leftist like Patrick Leahy arguing over a defense appropriation, and allow that Senator Leahy has the right to do that, well, then, we're all together. And our enemies had better watch out.

Here are a few observations on the events, the talk, and the reporting of the recent past.

-- It is widely overlooked that airports are ports. As such, they are riddled with organized crime, particularly big ones like JFK and Logan. That makes compromising security simply a matter of making the right criminal connection, and that isn't hard.

--- "There are Christian extremists, too." This is silly. No other of the world's major religions besides Islam is associated with mass terrorism in the modern age.

--- "Violence only begets more violence." No. The history of the last 20 years or so, from the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut through the embassy bombings in Africa through the U.S. Cole, to the two attacks on the World Trade Center, tell us that our enemies will escalate violence all by themselves - and that they have done so without any real, coherent, "violent" response on our part at all. As soon as they develop an ICBM, they'll shoot it at us. As soon as they come up with a deliverable biological warfare agent, they'll disperse it here. As soon as they build a usable nuclear bomb, they'll explode it here.

As any policeman knows, you don't go arrest an armed robber with a "proportional response." You go get him with overwhelming, overpowering force so he can't hurt you while you're capturing or hurting him. I'm glad that the decision to make an overpowering response to the World Trade Center attacks doesn't rest with me.

-- A few (so far three) incidents of attacks on Arabs, Arab-appearing people, or Arabic institutions like mosques does not make America an intolerant or even a dangerous place for ethnic Arabs who live here. In any other country, Arabic immigrants would be packing their belongings and fleeing for the borders.

-- Jerry Falwell's off-the-cuff screed against "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists," and so forth is appalling not for its content - you can read far stronger stuff in Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel - but for its clumsiness of language and thought. This man purports to be a national preacher? Please. But the smug, self-righteous condemnation of people like Bill Moyers and Andrew Sullivan doesn't bring any higher standard of thought or language to this debate. We have neglected our physical security for too long. We have also neglected our moral security, and that needs to be examined. That our chattering classes reacted so viscerally to Jerry Falwell's remarks only points that out.

-- Considering our military response, I've been remembering one of my wife's favorite metaphors: When you go to the hardware store to buy 3/8 inch drill bits, you don't want 3/8 inch drill bits. You want 3/8 inch holes. All the speculation about employing our armed forces - Air strikes? Tactical nukes? Special forces? - starts by talking about the drill bits, not about the holes.

President Bush's real strength is his ability to focus on the desired objectives: Holes where terrorists used to be. And he and his team know our military capabilities far better than anybody in the commentariat.

Nonetheless, some speculation is intriguing, and I'll weigh in with this bit: If it can be established that Osama bin Laden is in Afghanistan, it may be possible, in fairly short order, to destroy or disable every motor vehicle and every aircraft in that impoverished country. That will put bin Laden and his crew on foot.

And that will make it a whole lot easier to find and destroy him.

Lawrence Henry is a regular contributor to Enter Stage Right.

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