To what end?

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

The world changed yesterday. As America and the world try to grasp the magnitude of what happened yesterday morning, we all share in the horror, sense of loss and anger. Terrorists rely upon randomness and surprise to demoralize and humiliate. The biblical scale of the destruction exacted on two powerful symbols of the free world and on the many thousands of human lives yesterday has raised the element of risk to new heights.

New York is an international city and the hub of world commerce. The Pentagon is the world's most prominent edifice of military might. The images of these symbols being so easily violated will be forever etched into our memory. Mankind has not witnessed a more devastating day of terrorism.

President Bush has stated that the attack constitutes an act of war and that the perpetrators of terror and those who harbor them will pay the price for what they have done. Declaring war under the circumstances raises a lot of questions. Certainly the perpetrators of yesterday's acts and those who helped them must be found and brought to justice.

Dealing with a specific state or nation guilty of harboring terrorists in a calculated way will be more problematic. If, for instance, Iraq is found to be a partner to the supposed forces of suspect Osama bin Laden, who may be concealed in Afghanistan, where does the hammer fall?

Can a madman such as Saddam Hussein really be brought to justice? How many innocent lives must be taken in a war that may be directed at a mobile, well-funded, nebulous, cowardly enemy who may only number a few dozen identifiable individuals? Afghanistan and Iraq are home to serious internal strife involving many factions and religious sects. Bringing either of these countries to task in total would be wrong.

What is clear is that the United States must re-evaluate the veracity of its covert and counter-intelligence operations. If the CIA the FBI and other intelligence arteries were adequately funded and given the necessary latitude to fight terrorism in the shadows where it exists, the degree of destruction we saw yesterday could likely have been mitigated. The battlefield has changed along with the very nature of war. Our defensive measures must now be directed at a very different enemy.

In describing the strike yesterday a television commentator likened our defensive readiness to a hockey game where every single shot on goal must be stopped. Yesterday, our defenses were incapable of deflecting multiple strikes. This is an unacceptable level of protection if our civil liberties are to be preserved.

Random acts of terrorism place all of us at risk of paying the ultimate price for freedom. Yesterday, in a single compressed moment of time, a multitude of Americans unknowingly gave their lives for freedom. We must never forget the human cost of our freedom.

To what end did the emissaries of evil work so hard? Life has little value to those who possess the pathological determination to destroy on such a scale. The dozen or so hijackers involved in the four plane crashes were extremely focused soldiers who, like all soldiers, were prepared to accept death as a consequence of their mission. We can also accept that the leaders of terrorist cells are also prepared to accept death with a twisted sense of honor.

If their mission was to demoralize and humiliate the free world, they may have succeeded for the moment. The foundation of the free world may have been shaken, but its spirit and resolve have been strengthened.

Don Smith


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