World War III is here, as President Bush recently said, and those who argue it’s just not true ought to do some explaining.
They should clarify why it is that the Islamic terrorists will go away someday soon, and why we don’t have to worry about tens of thousands of people being killed in their attacks here and elsewhere on the planet. They should tell us how the war ended.
We know when it started — or more accurately, when most of us were awakened to it. That was the 11th day of September not quite five years ago. We have not been hit again, thanks to extraordinary vigilance that still must be improved and to counter-attacks that put some tyrants out of business while also sending signals that terrorism has a stiff price.
But if we forget that day and the loss of 3,000 lives, if we go back to sleep, if we think we were mistaken about the threat, if we fail to understand that we are faced with an enemy intent on world domination, if we think our civilization invulnerable to demolition, if we don’t get it that something is demanded of us beyond near-fanatical criticism of the Bush administration, we could suffer grievously. Worse, perhaps, thanif we had lost to Germany and Japan a half-century and more ago.
A war against terrorists is different from a war against nation-states. It is still war, and it may be more dangerous, especially given three truths about the enemy. One, these people are mainly killers of civilians. Two, they will happily commit suicide in their cause, which means that it is meaningless to set up a wide variety of conventional protections that work perfectly well against people with a prejudice against their own deaths. Three, they may very possibly equip themselves with weapons of mass destruction.
Some friends have suggested to me that a mushroom cloud would not be the end of everything because, after all, American bombs eliminated Japanese cities in World War II and Japan has made a terrific comeback.
The obvious answer is that Japan surrendered and we won’t, and that Japan knew no more cities would be blown away. Americans would not be so assured. We would wonder what city would be next after the first one went. Fear would almost certainly drive us to extremes of caution, perhaps obliterating much in the Bill of Rights and transforming an optimistic, cheerful, open people into a people filled with dread.
I am not saying we should wring our hands and cry. I think we will win this war, unless we come to think exit strategies more important than converting a Middle East state into a consensual, strong, decent society that sets an example for others; unless we let a fourth-rate outfit like the regime in Iran make cowards of us all; and unless we think we can sail into safety through the leftist preachings of accommodation, guilt, squeals of sorrow over other nations not seeing things our way, and intellectually vacuous estimates that all risks can be met with passive security measures on the home front.
America can win this third war of world consequence if we face facts as facts and stiffen our resolve, instead of retreating into the Bush-bashing, self-satisfied, hibernation-happy supposition that minding our own business will make everything OK.