Watching the destruction of the World Trade Center left us speechless – one kept expecting, even hoping, for Steven Spielberg to step in front of a blue background and ask us how we liked his latest special effects. We’ve been blanketed with news coverage and with stories that could wring tears from stone. Practically no one, however, has delved into why the terrorists worked the evil they did.
One audio montage carries a man’s plaintive cry, “What have we done to get this kind of hate?” The answer is: we took sides in a war, and the enemy of our friends is our enemy.
Are we Americans so self-righteous or lacking in moral imagination that we cannot put ourselves into others’ shoes for even a minute? When America’s heavily subsidized ally Israel uses American planes, American tanks, American helicopters and American rockets to fight and kill Palestinians just what do we think their attitude should be toward us?
What might Muslims have felt 20 years ago when America took sides in the Muslim/Christian war in Lebanon by lobbing one-ton battleship shells into Muslim villages?
We stepped into Islamic Somalia with the best of intentions (the paving stones of the road to hell) and the worst understanding of the real world. We not only failed miserably there but managed to reinforce our image as swaggering hegemonists in the minds of many in the Mideast.
We blithely leveled a medicine factory in partly Islamic Sudan. Imagine American reaction if China bombed Fargo’s Case Tractor plant and then said oops, we thought it was a missile factory and felt entitled to destroy it.
It may be that Arab terrorists love to attack America not because it’s a shining beacon of democracy or wealthy and powerful, but because it has sided for decades against the Arab countries politically, financially and most importantly, militarily.
We Americans love to dismiss the founders of America, which was a republic before it became an empire. We think their advice is obsolete and irrelevant, their verities washed away in a tide of progress and change that has made us (how they would have shuddered to hear it) a superpower and guarantor of goodness and light everywhere on earth. But hear George Washington and learn: “So likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation … betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and Wars of the latter …”
In fact using our military in any manner other than for our common defense is unlawful in the deepest sense: it is unconstitutional. Perhaps if the American people had channeled even a fraction of their current patriotic fervor into a study of the Constitution and American history we might not have come to the current dreadful pass, and terrorists would no more have taken notice of us than they do Switzerland or Australia.
Instead we must fight, but fight a war we cannot win permanently. Suppose we managed to kill all terrorists. We would have a brief peace, but the next generation consisting of the likes of the terrified, weeping Palestinian child hustled off by Israeli security or a survivor of siblings who died because of our current embargo against Iraq (now said to be responsible for over half a million Iraqi children’s deaths) will step into its fathers’ shoes with the same grievances and rage.
We must retaliate for the evil done to us. Then we must consider a foreign policy that is consonant with our Constitution and with wisdom, one that will not have America blundering from one foolish intervention to another to please an ally or a utopian dream.
Ross Nelson is a postal worker and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary pages. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org