My Turn: Important questions about our new war

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

I am as upset about the hijackings and destruction as anyone. I am glad that we are using all of our powers to bring the perpetrators to justice. I hope it happens soon and that justice prevails. I am also concerned about the declaration of war against terrorism. While declaring war is relatively easy, deciding when and how it is over may not be. Who decides when the war against terrorism is over? What are the conditions under which this war will end?

In the past, wars were ended by either armistice, a negotiated agreement, as in WWI, or by total defeat, as in WWII. However, our war against terrorism has been described as something very different from what has been experienced in the past. Therefore, what will signify the end of this war? Here's what I mean. By this time, nearly two weeks after the hijackings, any terrorist organization has abandoned its training camps, if they have any savvy at all. I'll bet they have put any important data onto disks slipped the disks into their pockets, and erased or destroyed their computers. They have melted back into the shadows and back to their day jobs. So, who is our military to fight? How is it to fight? We can rearrange the rubble the Russians left in Afghanistan. But by first reports, these hijackers weren't Afghanis. We could attack what's left of Afghanistan for harboring Osama, but he could well be hiding in some remote cave that could be extremely difficult to locate. I would only point out that our authorities haven't been able to locate the man wanted for questioning about the Atlanta Olympics bombing. Despite serious attempts to locate him, he's been hiding for several years in the hills and mountains of our own state of North Carolina. I'm not sure we have a very good track record in accomplishing this sort of mission. Is using our military the appropriate way to ferret out clandestine terrorist groups across the world?

We could also finish the job on Saddam that George W's father began. But as I understand it Saddam has bunkers in mountains that are nuclear proof, similar to the one we have in Colorado for our president. Its way under ground. How many lives would be lost of the already suffering Iraqi population, women and children, until we reached him? But has he harbored training sites for terrorists? Has he funded terrorist groups? Is there even an indirect link between Saddam and bin Laden?

In our war on terrorism do we consider Palestinian terrorists plaguing the Israelis part of international campaign? Will we seek to eliminate them, too, especially if an American tourist becomes a victim of their violence? Will we be able to do what the Arabic-fluent Israeli military has been unsuccessful at doing?

On what basis do we make a distinction between international terrorists and those terrorists plaguing other countries, like Sri Lanka or Columbia? Is the only distinction to be whether they cross an international border? How long must the world be free from such terrorism for President Bush to declare a victory? Could another lone-acting Ted Kaczynski-type unabomber, mailing letter bombs to the U.S. from a cabin in southern France, or Indonesia, or some other place enough to activate our war against terrorism and keep the war going? I know how other wars can end. I would like to know the conditions under which this war will end. Or does George W. Bush and his handlers get to decide?

Please don't get me wrong. I am as hopeful as anyone that these people will be captured and permanently put out of business. I am only asking what I feel are very important questions about our new war. It seems to me that knowing such answers will help me to support this war. Developing answers may help to formulate policies and avoid the impression that we are making it up as we go along.


Steven Wolf of Juneau is a retired teacher.

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