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The Day We Woke Up ... For Awhile

John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, speaking to a rat in the corner:

“My writ here says you must stop eating Chen Lee’s cornmeal forthwith. It’s a rat writ, writ for a rat, and this is lawful service of same.”

The rat ignores him, so he shoots it.

“You can’t serve papers on a rat. You got to kill him or let him be.”


It’s been five years. A blink of a cosmic eye -- or, in politics, forever.

Did we go to war that day? Not at all; we were at war years before that – we just didn’t notice. What happened on that day is that our eyes were opened, if only temporarily.

I was once taken to task by a reader, who insinuated I was a cruel warmonger for saying all Americans should watch that video footage, every year. I was wrong, of course: Everyone in the entire free world should watch the footage, not just America. Every year. This is not a war against just one nation.

I’ve said we’ve been at war since 2/93. Don’t remember 2/93? Doesn’t stick in your mind? That’s February, 1993, when a group of terrorist packed a van full of explosives and detonated it under the World Trade Center, in an attempt to knock one tower over against the other. Six people died, a thousand were hurt. It was treated as a crime.

A crime? Few people recognized the truth; it wasn’t until after they did manage to bring the towers down that I pronounced 2/93 as the day the war started.

But I was wrong.

It has been argued persuasively, by people whose eyes were opened long before mine, that the war actually started in November, 1979. A group of Iranian radicals attacked and captured the American Embassy in Tehran (embassies are considered sovereign territory). Backed by the recently radicalized Iranian government, they held America hostage and helped bring down a presidency.

That’s when the terrorists smelled blood.

If we designated a day, like 9/11 or 7/7, for every terrorist attack, the calendar would be full. And still the American giant slept, unaware of the terrorists buzzing ever nearer.

4/83: 63 die in an attack on Beirut’s US Embassy.

Later that year, 241 US servicemen die in a truck bomb attack in Beirut. Why? Because we didn’t react the first time.

Over the next several years, bombs explode at the US embassies in Beirut and Manila, among others. 224 die in 1998, during simultaneous attacks on embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

4/85: A Madrid restaurant, popular with US soldiers, is bombed.

8/85: 22 die in a car bombing at a US Air Force Base in Germany.

Later that year a wheelchair bound American is murdered in cold blood, aboard a hijacked cruise ship.

4/86: TWA Flight 840 is bombed. Two years later Pan Am Flight 103 blows up over Scotland, killing 259.

12/92: American troops in Yemen are targeted by 3 bombs.

1/93: Two CIA agents are shot to death outside their headquarters in Virginia.

2/93: The first World Trade Center bombing.

Also in 1993, a little known group called Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for shooting down US helicopters in Somalia.

11/96: A car bomb in Saudi Arabia kills seven American military personnel.

6/96: A truck bomb attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia kills 19 Americans, hurting 500 more.

10/00: According to law, an attack on a warship is an act of war, but when 17 die on the USS Cole no war is declared; it’s treated, again, as a crime.

Then there are those failures, which generated press and quickly faded away. Plots to blow up Los Angeles International Airport and Seattle’s Space Needle, and attack Disneyland; attempts to bring explosives over the border; plots to kill President Clinton in the Philippines, ex-President Bush in Kuwait, and Pope John Paul II in Manila.

We could jump ahead: To more bombings in Spain, to 7/7 in England, to plots to blow up numerous America bound passenger planes. (That last one was done before – remember the plot to blow up dozens of trans-Pacific US flights in 1995? No?)

Between 1981 (when extremists killed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat) and 2000, the world suffered more than 9,000 terrorist attacks, not including the violence in Palestine. Between 1995 and 2000, 77 Americans died as a result of international terrorism, not to mention many hundreds of people from other countries. A year later, over 3,000 died in a single attack on American soil.

That’s just the tip of the bomb-laden iceberg.

Al-Qaeda operated in 60 countries, including the USA. Nations identified as sponsoring terrorism include Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. This doesn’t include Iraq’s attacks against four other countries, since those were considered acts of war, but does include Saddam Hussein’s attempt to have George Bush Sr. assassinated in 1993.

There’s a pattern there, if you care to look. Whenever we showed weakness, or ignored them, the terrorists redoubled their attacks. Whenever we showed strength and made efforts to protect ourselves, the attacks subsided – the terrorists were busy trying to protect themselves.

When America went on the attack, countries like Libya suddenly started to play nice. When Congress and the extreme wings of our parties started in-fighting, making us look weak, North Korea and Iran started thumbing their noses and destabilizing their parts of the world again. Pattern? You bet.

Are you wondering about my John Wayne quote?

In the 80’s and 90’s, we treated terrorism as a crime. Those weren’t crimes, they were acts of war. You can’t write a writ for a rat, and you can’t serve papers on a terrorist.
We’re not dealing with criminals; we’re dealing with maniacs whose ultimate goal is to destroy every single government in the word that isn’t run by Muslim extremists, and to kill every human being in the world who doesn’t convert to that same hardcore definition of their religion – including other Muslims. They've said as much, in so many words.

You can’t treat them like rats because, as the Duke said, you have to kill a rat or let it be. You can’t let a terrorist be, because he’s just going to keep coming back -- until he either kills you, or you kill him.

It’s that big. We’re at war, and more than just our way of life is at stake – our very survival is. So yes, we should watch that horrible footage from 9/11 -- the buildings falling, the people dying – every day. Whatever it takes.

To remember.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 7th, 2006 06:58 am (UTC)
You're confusing war and terrorism. While the tactics and outcome may be the same, terrorism is a act by a group of individuals (insane bampots with a small sphere of influence), war is an act by a country (insane bampots with a large sphere of influence). Great big difference.

You cannot win a war on terrorism in the same way as you can't win a war on drugs.

You want to stop the problems with drugs. Legalise them. It cuts out the blackmarket aspect and drug addicts can be treated the same as alcoholics. Just remember the corruption and vice that surrounded alcohol during Prohibition. Same situation, but today there's a hell of a lot more money at stake for the blackmarket.

When it comes to terrorism, running amok in countries with guns or supplying tin pot dictators with weapons creates more sympathy for terrorists. If you want to wipe out their power base, you stop the causes of that sympathy. If you start supplying food, ensuring decent education and trading with a country fairly, I can guarantee you that you'll win a hell of a lot more support than shooting the locals.

Sure, there'll always be extremist wingnuts looking to play power games, but if you're fed, have a job and a decent education, those bampots are just going to look like ignorant wankers and will never reach the levels they do when a population is oppressed and hungry.

Then there's the massive corruption surrounding huge corporations who just love a good war to rake in money from all manner of dodgy dealings and the delight of governments who are systematically stripping us of our rights and liberties in the name of security.

There's a killer documentary called Age of Terror that I highly recommend. It was produced by the Discovery Channel, but I couldn't find it on their site or Amazon's Amazon.co.uk has it or you could always order it from Australia. Beware the region coding and PAL format, if you don't have access to equipment to handle this, you may be forced to use the evil bittorrent.
Sep. 7th, 2006 09:02 am (UTC)
bittorrent -- yuck
My use of the term war was mostly to wake up Americans, who still lean toward the belief that if we just walked away the attacks would stop and we'd all play happy together. Still, Muslim extremists already control some contries and large regions of others; because this is a large conflict in which one large group of people intends to take over the world and convert or destroy its occupants, I'm fully comfortable calling it a war. As I mentioned to frimfram, its a war like nothing we've seen since the fall of the Roman Empire.

You're right that every attempt should be made to cut off their support, and that the problem will lesson if we can help the poorer nations gain the ability to support themselves. As an example, Ill-advised as America's Iraq efforts may be, the Iraqi people aren't dumb; they knew they were much better off without Saddam. They knew there would be a huge effort to bring in the infrastructure they needed to modernize, just as there is in Afghanistan. The extremists knew it too, and that's why the terrorists came in and started blowing up everything; to keep those countries down and out and ripe for recruiting. Sadly, they're winning the PR war, which is over half that battle, and they're also turning the oft-warring sects against each other.

However, it's important to remember that many of the terrorists come from well off countries and are even rich individuals. In addition, the extremists are running schools in many countries that are devoted to teaching kids that the best way to get into heaven is to blow up infidels -- you can't reason with people like that. Granted we need to keep a close eye on our own governments, but we also need to take the fight to the bad guys, or we'll continue to lose our own people in our own countries.
Sep. 7th, 2006 07:31 am (UTC)
I hear you, and I think you're dead right about the sleepwalking. But wars are waged between states. In war, you know whom to attack. You can have rules of combat and when one side or the other infringes them they are guilty of war crimes and can, it is hoped, be brought to book. You can have conditions of victory, possibilities for diplomacy.

When you declare war on an amorphous mass, never properly defined or delimited, how could you even tell you'd won (in the extremely unlikely event that it looked plausible that you had)? How do you know when to stop? When you can segue into negotiations, armistice, treaty? Who would you hope to make agree to those terms? If you consider it possible that the world will always throw up individuals who are, not to put too fine a point on it, fucking lunatics bent on murder and willing to slap the label of a trumped-up cause on their actions, then you accept that terrorism will never be utterly wiped out. Sure, even accepting that there is still a vast amount you can do to limit, thwart, and combat it. But if you say you are at war with it, you have to face the certainty that you can never decisively win. So we will be at war forever.
Sep. 7th, 2006 08:16 am (UTC)
Boy, I sure wish I had an argument for that. It's exactly what has many people trying to figure out some way to give up -- we really are looking at something that might go on forever. A prime example is Isreal, which has been under almost constant attack since the moment the nation was founded; my fear is that as long as there continue to be schools run by Muslim extremists, teaching little kids that they should love the idea of blowing themselves and other people up, there will continue to be conflict.

I only had a thousand words to work with, so I confined myself in the column to a single point: That there is no way to just give up. We can try to bring prosperity into the rest of the world, to cut down on those who hate because of their circumstances; we can pressure the moderate Muslim world to police their own religion; we can do a lot of things that might contain or lesson the threat, but we can't give up. "We'll stay here and give you that corner of the world" simply won't work with a group of people who believe their god demands they convert or destroy every person on the face of the planet.

Still, because it involves a battle to the finish between two civilizations (maybe ways of life would be the better term), I believe it does qualify as a war. I felt it best to word it that way, in an attempt to wake people up to the danger. But it's like no war ever seen in modern history -- maybe the best example would be the series of invasions that ended up bringing down the Roman Empire, which is a terrifying thought.
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