A Question of Innocence
By TNTripp

Pundits and politicians are going to poke and push the limits of their courage and their ethics to see where the US should go in running to ground those responsible for the September 11th air attacks in New York and Washington. There will be some who want to turn this into a legalistic prosecution through The International Court at the Hague to ensure we have the exact murderers who pulled the trigger. At the other end of the spectrum are those who will back from a cry for a declaration of war when they can't quite figure out against whom to declare it. But they will do so slowly, and reluctantly. Their ultimate political insecurity and a measure of formalistic daintiness will cause them to equivocate. That leaves the middle ground, where the rest of us live.

As America wrestles with the problems of terrorism a couple of facts need to be kept in focus:

First, everyone is involved, from rural Kansas to the barren recesses of the Middle East.

Second, the struggle is never-ending. There is always someone with a beef, and as technology makes weaponry stronger while making it smaller, the means are at hand to cause widespread damage easily. Small groups with fluid memberships and varied agendas are difficult to pin down, and essentially impossible to predict in an open society.

This attack transcended security precautions, so the question becomes does it transcend security abilities? The answer is no.

Our recent after-the-fact technical responses to heedless challenges aimed at our free society are not useful right now. We must consider what are our other security options. The bottom line, is that they involve offensive tactics. The fanatics have our attention, we must gain theirs. "We seek not to start a war but to avoid war, and the surest way to avoid war is by asserting our willingness to wage it." says both common sense and common knowledge.

How did we, mankind, get here, being forced to defend ourselves blindly? During World War II the rules of combat and combatants changed dramatically. As we progressed from warfare between soldiers to annihilation of whole populations, tens of millions of civilians were killed, intentionally. Hitler bombed London, the Japanese individually murdered 300,000 civilians in Nanking, the US firebombed Dresden and Tokyo and obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Each of these representative but not isolated events left hundreds of thousands of non-combatants dead. Each of these acts, in addition to any other intention, was designed to destroy the will of the people. All-out war on civilians is now a fact of modern combat and modern politics.

Those involved in September 11's barbarism have declared war on us, starting as Hitler did, with the innocent. We need to do them a return favor, only we are bigger thus the stakes are higher. That's a price they are counting on us not to pay. It is not time for a declaration of war from us, but it is time for an intention of war, a prosecution of our response in war-like fashion. And we need to not do this solely from 30,000 feet or 300 miles away. This means "innocent" people will be killed. There, I've said it, now let's examine it.

Being exposed to discomforting ideas is the price of freedom. What is most important to remember as we look forward to what we are about to do, is to recall what has been done, and to fear not the consequences of our actions but the consequences of our inaction. First, then, we recognize that innocents have already been killed, that's where our enemies started.

And, as we make our decisions to risk more of the blameless being killed, we are forced to ask: Who is innocent? The group who hijacked four jetliners from three different airports and were able to drive these complicated machines to their destination in all but one case, have to be termed sophisticated, educated, trained, and disciplined, to the point of death. Those ingredients in a human conspiracy are as dangerous as the results they obtained. We must be seen by all as just as menacing, only a lot bigger and substantially more capable. That includes, unfortunately, the magnitude of our potential mistakes.

Our response cannot be particularly dependent on consensus, nor be constrained much by doubt, it. must be more professional than emotional. There will be naysayers and the weak, not even Pearl Harbor netted a unanimous vote for war in Congress on December 8, 1941. Killing is wrong, most of the time. But killing at all is where the issue of who is 'innocent' comes to the fore. The actions of September 11th cannot have been planned off the cuff nor on the run, there had to be an extensive period of recruitment, training, planning. These things are mostly secret, but never wholly so. Those who know are not innocent. More importantly the results are plain, and now everyone knows who, and what, and why, not the details, but the reality. Those who support this, philosophically or actually, are as guilty as are those who conspire by their silence. The gleeful Palestinians dancing in their streets belie any attempt at disclaimer. And the tens of thousands of Afghans trying to flee their country since September 12th speak for themselves.

The executioners did not leave anyone behind to say why they crashed hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but they didn't need to. They want America's open society to suspect and doubt, the terrorist style is to remain silent and encourage fear, of both more death or an overwrought response. The terrorists hope the United States, as we did with Pan Am 107 and the cruise ship Achille Lauro, will treat the attack not as an act of war but as a criminal, legal matter.

Not this time, and not next time. Going forward the political rhetoric and debate in America cannot be trifling or circumspect. As George Will noted, even sporadic terrorism can necessitate the constant costly deployment of defense against it. But the greater cost is to our judgment and our dignity. As there can be no immunity for some of our vulnerabilities if we wish to remain who we are, it will require courage and a conscious act to eliminate the threats. Two wrongs will never make anything right, but war is wrong after wrong after wrong, until someone makes everyone get it right.

America came to September 11th through appeasement as surely as Hitter came down that same avenue to control Europe in 1940. Now we won't have any intention of appeasing terrorist factions, or nations. We brought down Milosevic, muzzled Khaddafi and contained Saddam through action that showed we will defend the rights and dignity of man.

The greater danger is that we will fall victim at home to appeasing the faint of heart, the fastidious, the lawyers. "Rules" of war are valuable only so long as all combatants observe them. When one player leaves the sandbox, the rest must go over the side to protect, even save, themselves. And all bets .are off thereafter. Our only concern cannot be the innocent, whomever the innocent may be. We must remember both the victims and the rest of us are an equal part of the equation. Most importantly the innocent must act as well, for in reality they are neither as blameless nor ignorant as the squeamish might like us to believe. They must protect themselves not by holding up their arms in front of their eyes when the munitions fly, but through actions in bringing justice to their own world. The people of Afghanistan came to this reality immediately after the carnage and they now fear the price to be paid for being aloof.

Fear is the most debilitating of all psychological conditions. We must not let a fear of hurting someone's misplaced feelings of good will or a false justice, get in the way of demolishing our own fear that we cannot act on our own behalf. Today, truly, no nation and no people are innocent.

This article first appeared in Columbus Alive.


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