Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 2001 / 28 Elul, 5761

In perspective

By Robert A. Wascher, M.D., F.A.C.S. -- MY EFFORTS to produce a weekly Health & Science column have not been going so well this week. I generally begin to review approximately 20 of the top weekly and monthly medical journals on Wednesday evening, and compose my column, at home, in time for submission on Friday.

However, like many of you dear readers, I find myself unable to concentrate for long on most of the tasks that normally comprise my day-to-day priorities. Instead, I constantly search the news sites on television and the Web, as well as the major national newspapers and news magazines, for yet more information about what has been done to us, and what is to be our response to this horrific assault on our nation.

All things in life are certainly relative, and this catastrophic aggression on our civilian population, and upon our nation's symbolic landmarks, demands at least a temporary alteration in our individual and collective priorities. In my case, as with many Americans, the simultaneous barrage of the sometimes contradictory feelings of anguish, sadness, anger, fear, bereavement, love, hatred, empowerment and hopelessness often seems all-consuming.

It is such a difficult time for us all right now, and most of all for those who have loved ones who have been lost or injured. It seems somewhat schizophrenic, but such horrific acts, taken by our enemies, have a tendency to simultaneously bring out the best and the worst in many of us. Cries for revenge have, understandably, drowned out most of the domestic voices for more "reasoned responses." An angry and horrible wound has been opened in our collective flesh, unlike any of the many past traumas that we have endured and survived. Outrage turns to rage, fear turns to "quiet anger," naivete and innocence turn to cynicism and bitter resolve.

Yet, some among us continue to counsel for restraint and self-control. "Don't let our response lead us to behave much as our own persecutors and assailants have behaved against us," they say. But I know that there were many previous (and premonitory) provocations that should have resulted in far greater responses by the US, and by other decent countries. Prior to realizing my long-held dream of becoming a physician, I was compelled by family and personal circumstances to leave college, and to join the Army.

Though it was not my original intention to do so, I was trained as a Chinese Mandarin linguist, and subsequently was assigned to various Army and civilian intelligence agencies during the late 1970s, where I worked as an intelligence analyst and linguist. I will never forget the sometimes frightening disparities between what I read in the newspapers about the American embassy hostage situation in Tehran and the intelligence data that I was aware of. The passivity of the US government during that crisis was, as always, taken by our enemies as a sign of our impotence, and a lack of our national will to boldly respond. This mistake has been repeated over and over again, both before and since.

Unfortunately, many are now beginning to believe that we may have recoiled excessively from the governmental excesses of the 1960s and 1970s, and have been left with an emasculated intelligence and military capability as a result (and that this undetected and unspeakable act, in part, is the outcome...).

Amazingly, some pundits and politicians, are still wringing their hands about what we are going to do if we fail to obtain unanimous global support for our eventual response to this evil atrocity. They say that the "lesson" here, however painful, is that the US has become arrogant and unilateralist these days. Maybe so (certainly this was the case when war began to consume Europe and Asia in 1939).

But in the final analysis, no nation has ever paid such a grim price, throughout its history, to ensure the freedom, and the social and economic success, of so many other nations (including our most bitter enemies) as the United States. The progressive ascendancy of the United States over the past two centuries has, unquestionably, been abetted by fortuitous geography and rich natural resources.

But we are not the only nation so blessed. These are merely the basic raw materials with which a worthy nation can build itself into something more than the sum of its disparate parts. As the bipolar world of the post-war era has rapidly evolved into a complex and interdependent global community, no other nation, other than the US, has had both the resources and the will to play the stabilizing-and often risky-roles that we have undertaken throughout the world.

This has, inevitably, resulted in no small degree of resentment and back-biting from our enemies, and even from a number of our allies. It is true, as every school kid knows, that the king of the hill makes a mighty tempting target. It may also be true that we are sometimes less responsive to the concerns and sensitivities of other peoples than we could be, or should be. We are surprisingly idealistic, and perhaps we have been too na´ve in the past. We are also imperfect, and have our own skeletons packed away in our collective national closet.

But sooner or later, we have always faced down our own internal demons. However, unlike most nations, both extinct and extant, we have largely faced-up to our shortcomings and our failures, and we have tried, altruistically I think, to improve the lot of everyone in our country, and around the world as well, within the limitations of human endeavor.

In the final analysis of deciding who we should be listening to today, as we grieve and reel from this savage assault upon us all, I would suggest we remember yet one more thing. For all of our flaws, even the nations that resent us and despise us could hardly want to imagine a world where there was no United States of America. It is not arrogant to observe that no nation, past or present, has been more critical to the peace, stability and prosperity of the entire world of nations than America.

The pundits and politicians who persist in fretting about the possible reactions of other nations to our response would do well to consider the often onerous global responsibilities undertaken solely by our nation, and to take a cold and hard look around the world today at who, really, has ever stood side-by-side with us in the trenches.

You can count such countries all on the fingers of one hand, and still hold a cup of coffee with that hand at the same time. Consensus is nice when you can get it, but the magnitude of the recent assault upon our nation demands a swift and comprehensive response, aimed at both the perpetrators and their enablers. It is a time, really, when we are about to learn who our true allies are, to say nothing of our friends. With or without them, though, we will prevail in the end.

My prayers go out to all the victims and their loved ones, and may G-d Bless them and our beloved country.

JWR contributor Dr. Robert A. Wascher resides in Santa Monica, CA. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Dr. Robert A. Wascher