by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
September 11, 2003
In Mourning the Victims of
September 11, 2001
BRADENTON, Fla., Sept. 11, 2003 -- I am terribly conflicted about what America ought to do or think or say about the events of Sept. 11. There are days when I would like us to distance ourselves from the Israeli-Palestinian/Judeo-Islamic conflict and let these two old enemies solve their own problems in whatever way their Old Testament "eye for an eye" creeds will permit.
Then there are days when I think I want to see the deaths of Sept. 11 avenged by dropping nuclear weapons on Riyadh, Kabul and Baghdad, perhaps with Teheran, Rawalpindi and Damascus - and Tripoli, too - thrown in for good measure.
There are days when I fear the old shibboleth of Jewish control of our media and our foreign policy has come to pass, and that dual citizenship is not an acceptable approach to American patriotism.
And then there are days when I sense that America's love affair with Israel is unfathomably fragile, such as when I heard Sen. Joe Lieberman speak up against Howard Dean's rejection of "50 years of American policy" in calling for a neutral approach to Israel and Palestine. On those days, my heart resumes the deep admiration for the struggle of the Jews through the ages of diaspora, the Holocaust and the founding of Israel - even as James Michener so eloquently described it in his novel The Source.
When one day I believe that Israel is a bully, beating Palestinians mercilessly into submission, on the next I think of Israelis as the strong but compassionate warrior who does what is necessary to stave off attacks but never uses all his power to utterly vanquish or kill his enemy.
That gives rise to a nagging question about what Israel would have done had the targets of Sept. 11 been not the Pentagon and World Trade Center but the Knesset in Tel Aviv or the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem? Would they, learning that the hijackers who attacked them were Saudis, have promptly leveled Riyadh? And would I blame them, or would I cheer? I would cheer, and weep for my soul.
This relentless seesaw of emotions eventually must lead me back to a respect for reason, and yet it leads me first the words of Jesus, "If a man smites you on one cheek, turn the other cheek to him." That is a fundamentally different approach than the one Israel takes against Palestine (and Palestine takes against Israel), and that the United States - which is thus not a Christian nation at all - takes against those who smite it.
As a Catholic, I believe profoundly in the Fifth Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." I oppose abortion for this reason, and for this reason I oppose the death penalty. I am emotionally incapable - or so I believe - of killing anyone, either as a civilian defending my home or as a soldier defending my country. Yet my mind is filled with thoughts of horrible homicidal revenges against those who threaten this nation, who suppress the lives they control, and who in my mind are enemies of freedom.
While he is certainly an enemy of freedom, I do not think of Osama bin Laden as evil incarnate; there is nothing in his personality, as we see it dimly through the glass of television, that has the peculiar rotten flavor of evil, or its dead eyes. I think of him instead as a leader of something akin to pre-nationhood Israel's Stern Gang, or the Likud, both of which engaged in many acts of terror, killing many innocent people, before their dream of nationhood was realized.
It might be an axiom of the political canon that no one gives you a nation, but that it must be taken. That was true for the United States, for East Timor, for Israel, and for every nation that has won its freedom in bloody armed struggle culminating in independence. That Osama bin Laden engages in this kind of struggle, and makes his war with powerful attacks against us, does not alter his fundamental nature as a "holy" warrior inspired by his faith's precepts to liberate what he sees as an oppressed people from the rule of a cruel enemy that has taken its homes, its freedom and its lives at will. One need not diminish him to want to kill him.
The Old Testament doesn't offer us a solution to the Mideast conflict. Hatred is taught on every side as virtue. Attacks are met with more attacks. As the bodies pile up, the war grows wider and encompasses not only other nations but many other innocent lives, and finally engenders other wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fundamental differences over religion have set two new and unpredictable nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, at each other's throats in yet another variation on the theme of religious intolerance, revolt and the abysmal chasm of endless retaliation. There is no justice possible in the sea of blood, for all are bloody and there is no innocence.
What then does reason say? Experience informs reason. I am one who gambles, often to the last cent. I am also generous when I can be, even to my last cent. And I am one who fights, both in the physical man-to-man sense, and also in the spirit (without their skill) of crusading journalists like Seymour Hersh and Ben Bradlee. As I gamble and give - and take - and fight, my store of experience grows larger, and I learn how to gamble, give and fight with greater effectiveness. The height of effectiveness is when you don't have to gamble and fight anymore, but that day is likely to never come.
Not long ago, in an editorial for The American Reporter I noted that being in the center of the Middle East, as we are with our occupation of Iraq, is really not such a bad thing in fighting the war that we fight today. We are on the borders of our worst enemies, and we know they find it intolerable. We conduct ourselves there in a way that to me is above reproach, and we suffer as lot of casualties as we fight that way.
But there is the other problem in such a fight: One is outnumbered by one's enemies, even if not out-gunned. In a long war, guns (short of nuclear finality) will not always out; people - the masses of them that either side can throw into a war, and the degree to which their fight is inspired by their God or gods, determine the victor in the long run.
In the short run - which is to say the next few years - the battle might be better fought probing and disarming those surrounding enemies than in taking them on directly by engaging their troops with greater numbers of ours.
But that is not our mandate in Iraq and Afghanistan; our policy is that the War on Terror can go wherever it may take us, but that our war within these nations cannot go across their borders. Yet how long do we have before the surrounding Islamic nations begin to see their borders with Iraq and Afghanistan as just so much diplomatic vapor? Who rules those nations? they will ask. Is it anyone we know? Is it who should rule them? Or are they simply tempting new territories (that historically were ours, they'll note) on which to carry forward the struggle for Islamic domination of the world against American imperialism and Western infidels?
Not long, I suspect. The territorial integrity of any nation at war is by definition up for grabs; we just hope that all of them don't start grabbing at once. Apropos of this, just today U.S. forces captured 80 foreign fighters near the Syrian border from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan.
So, how would I fight such a war? I would do the following:
Finally, in the United States:
Many would say that as a child of the '60s and the Vietnam era, I have not learned the lesson of that conflict well. That is not the case; the military lesson of that war was that the rules must not serve the enemy, and that the exit strategy must be certain - no matter what.
And, even as Osama bin Laden warns us on its second anniversary of a terrorist plot that will dwarf the horrors of Sept. 11, our strategy must be one for victory that is certain and complete.
Joe Shea is Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter. Visit his http://hardnewscafe.blogspot.com for other commentary.