Along the Tracks

Thursday, September 11, 2003

This changing world

In last Saturday’s Bryan Times column, I went through the checklist of changes since 9/11. Some, in my view, have been for the better - most, in fact. A few have been of questionable value, even negative.

I believe the key to advancing the forces of freedom is to maintain a broad perspective, just as the “Greatest Generation” did 60-plus years ago. When the attack on Pearl Harbor shook us out of our self-absorption in late 1941, we didn’t just decide to make war on Japan. Franklin Roosevelt, to his credit, realized that the enemy was larger than merely the Japanese emperor and his clique of militaristic advisers. The enemy was expansionist militant nationalism around the globe, whether dressed as Japanese superiority, Nazi Arianism or Italian imperialism.

We could have avoided the European conflict, for a time at least, and focused on Japan alone. That’s where the attack came from, after all, and while the Germans had been troublesome, they had nothing to do with that act of war. Many would have been content ignoring the German declaration of war on the United States, as long as the Nazis didn’t conduct any major operations against us.

Roosevelt chose a different path, one which was harder on its face, but held the promise for a greater expansion of freedom, and a greater peace.

George W. Bush could have stopped short of an all-out “War on Terrorism.” He could have narrowed his focus to Afghanistan’s al Qaeda linkage and made his political life much simpler. He didn’t. Bush realized this act of war committed on 9/11 was larger than one terror network or one brutal regime. It was a philosophical statement crashing out of the Middle East cesspool: Western freedom is antithetical to totalitarianism, and so must be pushed back. George W. Bush chose to answer that challenge.

Some people still do not accept this premise: Whether the totalitarian aggression is centered in Islamism or secular dictatorship is about as important to the issue as whether the aggression of 60 years ago was centered on the claimed racial superiority of Germans or Japanese. It is the same evil, using the same slogans - just change a word here or there to fit the local situation. Whether the suicide bomber calls on the name of Allah or Saddam or Arafat, you’re just as dead.

The threat we face is not poverty, not religion, not murderous individuals or horrific technologies. It is a philosophy which believes in the subservience of the masses to the dictates of a tiny elite. It is a philosophy which practices the economics of aggression, targeting the weak and undefended to maximize blood and grief. It is a philosophy which grinds the individual in the mills of the state. It is a philosophy of ultimate power. It is a philosophy of absolute fear. It is a philosophy of death.

And those who believe this philosophy are right: It cannot stand beside a free West. Freedom capitalizes on the power of the individual by unleashing her potential. Freedom is highly contagious. Freedom is the lack of central control. Freedom is the philosophy of life.

“Isms” have been losing ground for centuries now, and while they occasionally rally for a time, the trend toward freedom is clear. Today’s totalitarians realize they are in a fight for survival. Once freedom sprouts in the Middle Eastern desserts, it will grow and spread, inevitably. For those committed to the philosophy of death, there is no choice but to fight.

Two years after 9/11, we are still debating what the “War on Terrorism” really entails. Many argue the Iraq war was not truly part of this conflict - a sideline, or a grudge match, or an adventure.

Don’t be fooled. Iraq is as central to this war as Germany was to World War II - without that victory, the larger war could not be won.

As George Will commonly reminds us, words have meaning. The War on Terrorism is poorly named. This is a World War, as certainly as the two numbered world wars, and the Cold War, also were. A victory can be claimed in this war only when the underlying philosophy of death is finally, irrevocably destroyed. That will require change across the Islamic World. We pray that it need not involve even more military action - but it may. If we do not press for freedom from the deserts of Libya to the islands of the Philippines, the embers of hatred will stay hot, and the horrors of 9/11 will flare up again.

If, however, we answer our generational call, and complete this difficult project, in 10 or 20 years, we may be able to look at a world with joy - and a little pride - that has flowered with freedom where today there is none. We may look at names on a map which once meant “enemy,” and now mean “ally.”

And we may look at our children and grandchildren, and know they are safe and free.

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