My Turn: Resolve to change the way we live

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2001

John Balzar's excellent column in Thursday's Empire addresses in a meaningful way whether America will have the discipline and fortitude to persevere with efforts to halt the terrorism directed at our citizens and nation. Balzar, by the way, is the former Los Angeles Times bureau chief for the Pacific Northwest and the author of a fascinating book about the Yukon Quest dog race.

Balzar's point that the terrorists are "civilization's deconstructionists" is right on the mark. All the hand-wringing in our local paper and the media outlets throughout the world by thoughtful and sensitive folks bemoaning the obvious harm to civilians in Afghanistan ignores a couple essential points.

First, the action the United States is undertaking to root out terrorists is not really a war in any conventional sense. Certainly the term "war" is everywhere in use but the need to root out terrorism is a "war" in much the same way as our nation has declared "war" on drugs and poverty.

In reality, the United States and a few other nations like England are actively hunting down transnational terrorist cells. The hunt necessarily uses the military but is hardly warfare by any traditional measure. This hunt is no more a war than when America sent the Navy and Marine Corps to halt the predation of the Barbary pirates in the 19th century, although the threat to civilization is much greater and the response necessarily more complex.

The second point that seems to have been overlooked by most commentators is that Afghanistan is not a nation in any functional sense. Rather, "Afghanistan" is a label customarily applied to a geographical area with nominal national qualities. In reality, Afghanistan is an area rife with tribal factions, including the now dominant Taliban who have provided aid and comfort to the terrorists America now hunts.

Balzar and those who counsel that patience and resolve will be required to see this hunt to a successful conclusion are surely right. Whether America has the patience and the will to endure the sacrifices necessary to bring about the end of terrorism on a global scale is an open question.

To date, only a few folks have had the courage to commence addressing some of the sacrifices that will surely be necessary for all Americans to endure in order bring an end to world terrorism. If we as a nation are to be successful, it is critical we make substantial and perhaps even radical changes in the way our nation consumes energy. For America to be successful in the world as it exists today, we will be required to make changes that promote a civil society while reducing dependency on resources from unstable portions of the globe.

The callow political leaders who talk about maintaining our "lifestyle" after the terror attacks miss the essential point of the terror attacks on Sept. 11. America is the subject of much scrutiny in this new world of rapid communication. America's "lifestyle" as it were, is central to the terror attacks. The terror attacks were an attack on our nation and the people who live in our nation in large part because of the way we live.

We are a nation of great good and much silliness. Poverty, drugs and now terrorism may always be with us to some extent. If we as Americans are unwilling or unable to make fundamental alterations to the way we live, it is possible we may not vanquish the scourge of world-wide terrorism. Our ability to eliminate or at least control each of these plagues will require new thinking and the will to undertake new patterns of living in a world made much smaller by near instant communications.

While America demonstrates patience during the hunt for the terrorists, we must muster the resolve to change the way we live at home.

Joe Geldhof is a lawyer in private practice in Juneau.

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