September 11th, the death of Western ideology and what comes next

Precedent in this node seems to be to discuss the attacks of a year past. Let us pray no documentation of further attacks will be necessary here.

"I fear that all I have done is awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."

--Admiral Yamamoto after the Pearl Harbor attack, December 7, 1941

These words echo of a past when ideologies threatened the freedom of the Western World - the terrible and massive armies of Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia vowed to take the world by force and subject it to their irrationality, fear and destruction. Such times seemed to have past, with the Soviet bear finally defeaten and seemingly converted.

"Nothing is more characteristic of the totalitarian movements in general and of the quality of fame of their leaders in particular than the startling swiftness with which they are forgotten and the startling ease with which they can be replaced."

--The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt

Now, terror again rears its ugly head. But this time it's different, and the rules have changed. The terror of last century was carried out by states against the citizens of other states and often the citizens of their own state. The startling characteristic of the victims of last century is their innocence as individuals. Such it is in the terror of this century - the people of over a hundred nationalities who died in the World Trade Center were sacrificial goats to the terrorists, slaughtered in an expression of rage against what America stands for and what it has done.

"It will not be quick and it will not be easy. Our adversaries are not one or two terrorist leaders, or even a single terrorist organization or network. It's a broad network of individuals and organizations that are determined to terrorize."

-- George W. Bush, press conference

So what's changed? Just as before, the terror is perpetrated against a generalised group just for being members of that group. Just as before the victims are not chosen arbitrarily1, but because of perceived crimes against the perpetrators of the terror. The difference now is that our enemies are geographically sparse, no longer homogenous, and may hide in countries with which we have no greivance, making their destruction a difficult task.

"We're going to find out who did this and we're going after the bastards."

--Sen. Orrin Hatch

And yet, the United States of America must go about this difficult task, and it must succeed at it. The patriotic people of the United States cannot stand to see their nation attacked in such a way, indeed it shocks and surprises them that anyone would wish to do so. In the face of a populace of this make-up, the government of the United States cannot afford not to react. And react they shall - with the support of the rest of the Western World or not. It would be a great shame if Europe could not motivate itself for a task of such importance2, but even if it doesn't we can rest assured that America will fight this war with all its resolve.

"...the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom."

-- Abraham Lincoln

In the War on Terrorism, a war against cowardly terror perpetrated on the innocent, sacrifices must be made. We are told that we must forgo some of our liberties, indeed the United States past an act known as the Patriot Act which did just this3. Members of the emergency services died trying to save their compatriots, and soldiers (yet mercifully few) have died in the war on Afghanistan. Citizens of Afghanistan have also perished in a war which they likely understand little of, and have no wish to perpetrate. No-one desires this, and yet many recognize that collateral damage is an unfortunate side-effect of a war which must be fought.

Yet the U.S. must be careful not to further stir up the hate which caused this dreadful mess in the first place. Those who think that this is a mistake they are doomed to repeat would do well to remember the rational self-interest of nations - the U.S. cannot afford, for its own sake to let this hatred simmer. They are aware of this. The only thing to question is whether they are competent enough to get things right this time.

September 11, 2001 defined a century. Those who say it was not important are living in a dream world, detached from reality. It may not be important to you, but it is the primary international relations issue now and will be for decades to come. Americans will not forget easily, and the fury they unleash could well match the thousand suns of their last great fury.

We appear to be past the period of totalitarianism. Yet the new enemy is just as idealistic, furious and brutal. But this time they're hiding in the shadows - even in the shadows of our own nations.

1. Justified or not, the populace of Nazi Germany had specific greviences against the Jewish people, otherwise the population could not have been motivated to act as it did. Similarly with the bourgeois in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in Red China.

2. It is conceivable that Europe sees no need in wasting money fighting a war which America will fight for them, especially in light of the recent reduction in many European defence budgets.

3. A cynic might will indicate that the principles of America's founding, which surely a patriot would respect and adhere to, go against the spirit of this act.

"Quotes about September 11, 2001": (Accessed September 11, 2002)
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt