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Six Months Later

What we haven't learned from September 11.


by James Leroy Wilson
March 13, 2002

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Six Months Later_James Leroy Wilson-What we haven't learned from September 11. Six months into the September 11 War, life on the street and inside the Beltway has pretty much returned to normal. Pointlessly rigid airport security, and our awareness of covert and conventional operations that put our military personnel in harm's way, are the most significant changes. Also, on account of the war, President Bush is enjoying very high approval ratings. But work and leisure has resumed as usual for most of us. Stupid, self-important predictions like "the death of irony" have not, thankfully, come to pass.

And America did not become "united once again." Certainly, there has been more flag-waving and other signs of patriotism, and most Americans agree that al-Qaeda's works of terror must come to an end. But, and this proves that irony did not die, the message or "wake-up" call America received on September 11 is in the eye of the beholder; the attacks, far from changing people's minds, pretty much confirmed what they already believe.

For example, if one believed that America was too arrogant and "unilateralist," before 9-11, and that we are resented because of our wealth, then 9-11 confirmed and hardened such conviction. If, on the other hand, one held that America was both too interventionist yet too cowardly and half-hearted, then 9-11 confirmed that, too. Leftists, predictably, quickly started to second-guess and condemn President Bush's policies from bombing to the imprisonment of our enemies, and started to define "terrorism" out of existence so as to place maximum condemnation on white nations and mute criticism of any non-white. The internationalist, conservative right, on the other hand, saw 9-11 as an opportunity for still greater international involvement, and called for the successive toppling of terrorist-supporting regimes across the Muslim world and the advent of a neo-imperialism.

And the most dangerous word in war and diplomacy, "honor," crept into the our thoughts and feelings: "If we give in on this, the terrorists will have won;" "If we stop doing thus-and-so, we're giving the terrorists what they want." For example, the Chicago Tribune published an editorial that reconsidered our occupation at a base in Saudi Arabia. But because our presence in his native land was a chief cause of bin Laden's ire, a letter-writer responded that we can't let that base go because that would mean bin Laden would win.

I, too, initially saw 9-11 as a confirmation of my own ideology. This is what happens, I thought, when we bully weaker nations and inject ourselves into wars and disputes which are pretty much beyond our own interests. When we assert power over other peoples for narrow political or economic interests, we will suffer a backlash. We may not know who, how, or even why, exactly, just as a school yard bully can't predict when and by whom his nose will be bloodied. But we can be certain that it will happen.

But is there a larger lesson? I believe so, and it has nothing to do with blaming the victim but instead with what these terrorists believe. And what they believe in is a world of violence. That is, they believe that for good to be achieved, someone must pay. Killing and destruction is necessary, in their view, in order to build the kind of world they want.

It is easy to blame a particular religion for this view, or religion in general. But what religion does, at the most, is inspire suicide missions, something the typical atheistic communist may not be tempted to attempt. It is, in fact, any kind of worldview, religious or secular, that assumes that the good of one must come at the involuntary expense of another, or that the good of the many must come at the expense of the individual, that must be wholeheartedly rejected.

To the extent that our minds have been poisoned with this view that other people's lives and belongings can be used for our own ends, is the extent that we will be willing to go along with Islamic Wahhibism, socialism, or any other form of totalitarianism. As Anglo-American liberty has led the way in defeating absolutism, slavery, imperialism, fascism, National Socialism, and Soviet Communism, so too can it defeat this maniacal ideology and its followers. But before we can defeat what we're against, we must remember what we are for, which is liberty.

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