My Turn: The reluctant sheriff unlocks the rifle cabinet

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Herein contains how I have processed the events of Sept. 11 and come to terms with individuals who believe that America is justly reaping what it has sowed. Yes, America defends our own national interests. Yes, American foreign policy is often hypocritical and naive. Yes, America's leaders have blundered and committed misdeeds.

An analogy can be drawn between the last century of U.S. foreign policy and the character of the reluctant sheriff portrayed in our western films. The sheriff being more inclined to tend his garden and livestock; walking quietly and carrying a big stick; favoring the spirit of the law over the letter of the law; hopeful that differences will work themselves out; always dreading the day he has to unlock the rifle cabinet and put on the badge. The world may fault us for our inaction, for our seeming indifference, but don't cast us to be what we are decidedly not. The U.S. is no more responsible for the atrocities of Sept. 11 than we were for the atrocities committed by Japanese imperialism, nazism and Stalinism. No world power since recorded time has resisted the urge to allow its ends to justify its means like the U.S. To those who can cast us differently, I regret that you find no pride or security in your nation's history, but oddly our way needs your dissent. I only ask that your dissent be consistent, to include your objection to the two most recent U.S. interventions (Bosnia and Kosovo) to stop the genocide of Muslims at the hands of Christians.

As for our economic subjugation, how has the U.S. oppressed these nations where terrorism is born? Multi-national corporate globalization? These nations largely fall into two economic categories: oil-rich command economies and undeveloped primitive economies. The first group, through cartel arrangements, are masters in the art of economic exploitation. The second group largely escapes our "exploitive" capitalism due to self-imposed trade barriers and the lack of resources and market infrastructure. We never even had the chance to set up a hamburger franchise or shoe factory in Kabul or Mogadishu.

There will be a time out in the distant future to sort out the roots of this attack, the underlying rationale. My suspicion is that the cause will have little resonance or currency in the context of the history of humankind. Whatever the source or pretext, the cause is radically subordinate to the effect. Why? Because the events of Sept. 11 transcend what might otherwise, given lesser actions, have allowed for a positive inspection of our world relationships. To suggest that this nation has any other option but to strike hard against the perpetrators of these atrocities is fanciful. The principal of reciprocity, learned as a child in the sandlot and biologically observable at the level of simple celled organisms, teaches us otherwise. I wish we could simply walk away from this, but that is fantasy. Our vulnerability from inaction chillingly trumps any other conceivable threat. Inaction and artificial reconciliation is blood to a school of sharks. Consider why the massive destruction of Sept. 11 was directed on U.S. soil instead of Israel? Although logistically complex, the Jihad has been capable of a single massive blow against the state of Israel for some time. Why no strike? Think about this as you moralize passivity.

Finally to the point of justice, which is code for "police action." Imagine that our new enemy on Sept. 11 had taken only one airplane, landed it in a remote field in Nebraska and proceeded to execute passages one at a time before a live video feed. As horrid as this would be, I could understand this as an act of terrorism.

Systematically commandeering four fuel-laden aircraft and deploying them as weapons of mass destruction can in no way be understood as an act of terrorism. The events of Sept. 11 are an act of war in their purist form. I can respect passivism as a belief, but I abhor any efforts to trivialize the degree of this atrocity. I find pathetic the thought that this nation limit our efforts to tracking down a handful of "terrorists" and bring them before a Hague tribunal. We have experienced a blood-letting with no parallel. Forget the nationalistic bravado, our response is anchored much deeper in a justification that presupposes human reason, that of self-preservation. One message: slaughtered Americans are incompatible with this nation's passage. The reluctant sheriff has been aroused. Pray for the children of our enemy.


Peter Jones of Juneau is an observer of world history, human conflict and a father of three.

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