And so the complacency sets in.
Shortly after 9/11/01, President Bush expressed rather privately a concern that as time passed, the American people would forget 9/11. They would forget how that day felt, and the urgency that welled up in many that whoever perpetrated it needed to be pursued and destroyed. There were many others in this country who felt sad for “the New Yorkers” that such a terrible event had befallen them, but who didn’t see the urgency. Perhaps Bush didn’t know about these people. Basically anyone living in the Midwest and Western part of the country felt this way, and it got progressively more pronounced the farther west you went. My impression is that in California, 9/11 was a 3-day story, and that was it. People got on with their lives after that. I heard stories from friends that in contrast, people on the Eastern Seaboard were devastated for months. Even a year later, I heard stories about people in that region being basically numbed out by the experience. Many had friends and relatives who worked in New York’s World Trade Center. They took the situation seriously alright.
I read today’s Daily Camera editorial (unfortunately the link I had for it is now broken so I can’t reference the original article – piboulder – 3/6/2009) and saw all the earmarks of this complacency.
The administration hauls out its “war on terror” rhetoric whenever its back is to the wall, claiming that we are in an open-ended conflict against an extremely powerful, organized enemy, and asserting Bush’s primacy as “commander in chief” to do whatever he likes.
The claim that terrorism — a tactic, not an enemy — poses an existential threat comparable to that of the Cold War is tired, overblown rhetoric. The terrorist threat is real and dangerous, but it’s diffuse. And if anything, it has been put on steroids by the administration’s myopic, counterproductive tactics, such as the war on Iraq.
Translation: “The so-called ‘War on Terror’ was made up by the power-hungry Bush Administration. We should not be at war, because in reality the threat is small. This so-called ‘war’ is making the problem worse, not better.”
Isn’t it interesting that when the enemy gets weaker there are people who will say, “What were people so scared of in the first place?” If the threat is so small, or “diffuse” as he put it, who killed 2,500 of our military personnel in Iraq? Just ordinary Iraqi citizens? Certainly some Iraqi citizens have been involved with the attacks, but there is most certainly military operational knowledge behind the vast majority of them. It’s not as if everybody and his brother knows how to build a roadside or car bomb over there, and where to place them for maximum impact. Who’s killed a few of the leaders in the Iraqi government, and leaves all of the leadership with the knowledge that they are risking their lives every day as they do their jobs? Secondarily, who’s been threatening Hamid Karzai’s life, the president of Afghanistan? There have been a few assassination attempts on him. These are bold actions by a committed enemy, fueled by a hateful ideology no less dangerous to our world than Nazism. And no, I don’t draw a parallel between this war and the Cold War, but rather WWII. But this is before the editor’s time, so he can be forgiven if he doesn’t remember how all that developed. I will say that his knowledge of history is lousy.
Hitler and his gang were once just a “peasant army” before he joined the Nazi party, and rose to power. Why is it that some people insist that an enemy must gain sufficient force to pose a real physical threat to our civilization before they’ll finally get it through their thick heads that we need to oppose these people with overwhelming force? It’s as if they think it’s not a real war unless we get to the point where we’re rationing supplies, and a million of our own soldiers are killed on the battlefield. A president would be a fool to wait until that state of affairs materialized, as us Americans once were many decades ago.
Here’s a reality check for the editor: It’s called asymmetric warfare for a reason. This involves a small number of militants with small budgets, using small-scale weapons, or in the case of 9/11 our own technology, to cause the same amount of damage as more sophisticated weaponry, thereby making themselves appear more powerful. The tactics are different. The militants try to bypass our technological advantage.
Regarding the use of the term “terrorism”, the editor is correct, but he misses the fact that “war on terrorism” is a catch-all phrase that embodies a lot of different factors. I’ve seen many critics say this: “terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy” as a way of looking clever. I’ve seen some academics say they wish the president would use more accurate terminology, to say that we’re really at war with radical Islamists. Well, do most people know what a radical Islamist is? People saw terrorism on 9/11. They didn’t get a chance to really see radical Islam, because the closest perpetrators killed themselves in the act of attacking us. All people saw was the attack, not the underlying ideology.
Another fact the editor neglects is that several additional Al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. have been thwarted since 9/11. President Bush mentioned these attempts not too long ago. I guess he’s forgotten, or didn’t believe in them because the description of them came from Bush’s own mouth. Anyone who’s been attentive enough to watch C-SPAN from time to time and has a memory of any length will have remembered that a military leader or two has mentioned these thwarted Al Qaeda attacks as well.
I have no cure for this complacency. I can only point it out and say that it’s dangerous.
I am reminded of a phrase I heard said a few times in a movie called “The Siege”: “Remember. The most committed wins.” Indeed this movie plays out many of the domestic political battles we’re seeing right now. It’s a well researched film that portrays Islamic terrorists carrying out a series of attacks on New York City (though nothing of the scale of 9/11), and our society’s and government’s response to it. Some of the similarities between events in the movie and 9/11 are eerie. If you watch it, keep in mind that the movie was released in 1998. That’s the striking thing about it.