Jewish World Review April 8, 2004 / 17 Nissan, 5764
Vigilance is not enough
We have all asked the question: Has America changed as a result of the attacks of September 11? Most of the answers have focused on how we feel as Americans. Do we think about the danger? Do we relate to our families more intensely? Have we thought of moving or switching jobs?
While most Americans have answered yes to at least one of these sorts of personal questions, such sentiments are probably fleeting. In fact, man is the most adaptable of all G-d's creatures. No matter how radically our environment changes, most of us quickly establish not only a physical method of dealing with the change, but a new mental sense of normality.
My parents were Londoners during WWII. While the shock of German bombs was initially frightening and disorienting, within days they were casually diving for cover, stepping neatly over the rubble without snagging their clothes, and finding their way to their favorite cafes and clubs. (Of course, the food selection was usually limited, but that, too, became normal.) We can be pretty confident that whatever terror attacks the future has in store for us, we will soon have trouble remembering what it was like not living with such expectations.
But if we, individually, will soon forget what the pre-terrorist mentality felt like (certainly our young children will take the terror threat for granted, never having known otherwise), the same is not likely to be true for us as a nation.
Our relation to the world has changed, probably forever. Our government leaders whether Republican, Democratic or members of some yet unformed party will inevitably feel the need to limit this newly normal danger. As long as we have the power and wealth to do so, our foreign policy will become an endless prowling of the world. To manage the danger, we will try to manage the world. It won't quite be imperial, because we have no desire to possess other lands and people. But it will be intrusive and worldwide.
The defining feature of this new mentality is the awareness (gained for most of us one year ago, today) that for the first time in human history, the advance of technology makes possible the killing of millions of Americans by just a handful of other people on the other side of the world. Until now, only great nations could pose such great threats. It took 80 million Germans to empower Hitler to kill 50 million Europeans. Until now we could monitor such great nations over many years to detect possible danger. Even during the Cold War, we could keep a wary eye on the Soviets and calculate with some confidence the methods needed to deter them.
But all that is gone. Now, vigilance is not enough. Now, only constant action may reduce the risk. Consider what we have done in just this first tentative year of this new era. We have invaded and conquered Afghanistan because they gave shelter to al Qaeda. We have instructed the Saudis and Pakistanis to stop funding their religious schools the madrassas. How intrusive this is, telling a sovereign country how they may educate their children and teach their religion. And those countries are more or less our friends.
We have pressured almost every country in the world to change their banking procedures and report to us the movements of money domestically in each country. We have more or less insisted on letting our special forces hunt and kill suspected terrorists in Indonesia, the Philippines, Sudan, Georgia and who knows where else. We have, with Russia, invaded Yugoslavia and seized their nuclear energy plant stockpiles. We virtually compelled Pakistan to change their military defense strategies vis a vis India.
And we have not yet found our stride. The more we fear, the more we will look. And the more we look, the more danger we will find. And the more danger we find, the more intrusions we will carry out. Who can gainsay the logic and necessity of such efforts?
And thus, the imperial period of our history starts. Great empires usually are not formed intentionally. From Russia to Rome, dangers at their borders compelled them to take the next bit of land. And so on they continued until they collapsed.
While we will not plant our flag on foreign lands, nor claim them for ourselves, we will insist on intruding and searching and managing. To do less would be criminal negligence on the part of our leaders. But in doing it we will be cursed, like the Flying Dutchman of legend, to wander the globe until the day of judgment.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
03/24/04: Kerry personally vulnerable