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Terrorism:  "Good" vs. "Evil"
(10/1/01)


Another response to Terrorism:  "Good" vs. "Evil":

Claremont Institute Precepts: The Moral Challenge
By Charles R. Kesler

The first thing that Americans must do when confronting the moral implications of the attacks on New York and Washington is to stop calling them a "tragedy." The word is inadequate, having been cheapened by overuse, and strictly speaking it is inapt. In the original sense, a tragedy is not simply a dreadful event or terrible calamity but one that befalls a great man as the result of his own flaw, the effect on the audience being to elicit pity and terror. But our enemies today did not aim for a catharsis. They meant to terrorize America, to dispirit us by fear, to leave us stupefied and paralyzed.

The consequences of these attacks are tragic, of course, in the broad contemporary sense of the term, but that sense is so broad as to be morally neutral. If the World Trade Center towers had collapsed due to an earthquake we would be calling that event tragic, too. Granted, it's hard to tear oneself away from the terrible human toll, but to take a proper moral and political view of these attacks we must focus not merely on their consequences but on the intentions behind the actions. These were wicked acts; savage, cruel, and evil.

President Bush called them cowardly, which they were. Unprovoked and unannounced attacks on unarmed civilians and peacetime soldiers could hardly be called brave. Yet in another sense these deathstrokes were anything but cowardly; they were daring and ruthless and, for the men who took over the planes and steered them into their targets, suicidal. These qualities amount to a kind of sham courage. We should not delude ourselves into believing that the foes we face are a bunch of clever cowards.

In fact, however, that is what they think of us. The terrorists have persuaded themselves ó Americans are a nation of rich, clever cowards, who are willing to kill but not to die for their country and its interests. From Hiroshima to Somalia, from Vietnam to the Sudan, America has sought to conserve its sons and to do its killing with the most efficient technology possible. This long-range, antiseptic approach to warfare reached its apogee in the Persian Gulf War and especially in President Clinton's pinprick attacks on Iraq, Sudan, and selected terrorist bases; our willingness to suffer casualties reached its nadir in our panicky withdrawal from Somalia and our super cautious deployments in Kosovo.

Leaving aside the merits of any of these engagements, from them many of our enemies around the globe drew the conclusion that America was a technological colossus but a moral midget. And so the terrorists did what shrewd but outgunned enemies always do: they used our strengths against us, jujitsu-style. They lacked airplanes that could reach American targets, so they took over ours and used them against us. They lacked smart bombs and missiles and so they turned our own commercial airliners into smart bombs and missiles, guided not by cool machines but by resolute human beings willing to ride the weapons right into a fiery death. And that was precisely the moral point the terrorists wanted to drive home: that they were willing not only to kill but to die for their unholy cause.

America's response to these wicked attacks must be righteous indignation. It is mainly up to President Bush to express that indignation in noble and searing words, and to join with Congress in striking with a terrible, swift sword against the nation's enemies. Thousands of Americans have already fallen in today's sneak attacks. Hundreds now risk their lives trying to save the trapped and injured. Our enemies underestimate American courage, forgetting that American democracy has ever been a fighting faith.

Charles R. Kesler is editor of the Claremont Review of Books and a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute. This article appeared on National Review Online.

Copyright (c) 2001 The Claremont Institute

The mission of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy is to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life.

Rob's reply
>> In the original sense, a tragedy is not simply a dreadful event or terrible calamity but one that befalls a great man as the result of his own flaw <<

One could easily argue that our flaws contributed to this tragedy.

>> These were wicked acts; savage, cruel, and evil. <<

That's what Americans said about Indians before they started eliminating them. From David Rider, "'Indians' and Animals: A Comparative Essay":

Indians received not only similar descriptions to those given predatory animals, but much the same treatment as well. George Washington, revered as the father of the country, wrote that Indians "...were wolves and beasts who deserved nothing from the whites but 'total ruin'" (Stannard, p. 241). Thomas Jefferson, acclaimed proponent of freedom and democracy, argued that the United States government was obliged "...to pursue [Indians] to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach" (quoted in Takaki, 1979, p. 103). Andrew Jackson, founder of the modern Democratic Party and greatest Indian killer of all American Presidents, urged United States troops "...to root out from their 'dens' and kill Indian women and their 'whelps'" (Stannard, p. 240).

>> President Bush called them cowardly, which they were. <<

The word "cowardly" is as overused as the words "tragedy" and "hero." If a Boy Scout helps an old lady across the street, he's a hero. If she trips and falls, it's a tragedy. If they refuse to cross the street, they're cowardly. Etc.

>> Unprovoked and unannounced attacks on unarmed civilians and peacetime soldiers could hardly be called brave. <<

I think the women and children we bombed in Iraq, Sudan, and Bosnia would agree with that.

>> We should not delude ourselves into believing that the foes we face are a bunch of clever cowards. <<

What should we delude ourselves into thinking? That they were born with "evil" genes? That the Devil infected their minds with evil?

>> From Hiroshima to Somalia, from Vietnam to the Sudan, America has sought to conserve its sons and to do its killing with the most efficient technology possible. <<

Maybe, if you define "efficiency" as killing the most people in one fell swoop. Yes, from the atomic bomb to napalm to cruise missiles, we've mastered the art of killing people efficiently. Whoopee.

Should we be happy that Americans have killed at all? Ironically, Bush said Jesus was his favorite political advisor. I wonder what Jesus would advise him now?

But note: The murderers in this case were extremely efficient. They killed 3,000 people with a loss of only 19 of their own. Other than training expenses, all it cost them was the 19 plane ticketsóless if they used frequent flier miles. It's arguably the most efficient mass killing since Hiroshima.

>> Leaving aside the merits of any of these engagements, from them many of our enemies around the globe drew the conclusion that America was a technological colossus but a moral midget. <<

Yep. Considering all the genocides we've tolerated, the dictators we've supported, and the hunger and disease we've ignored, the "moral midget" characterization is accurate.

>> And that was precisely the moral point the terrorists wanted to drive home: that they were willing not only to kill but to die for their unholy cause. <<

That's often true of soldiers battling their enemies. As history has shown, both the holy and unholy are willing to die for their causes.

>> It is mainly up to President Bush to express that indignation in noble and searing words <<

Bush hasn't seared much of anyone with his scripted comments. He hasn't decided whether we're at war against one man, terrorism, or worldwide "evil."

>> and to join with Congress in striking with a terrible, swift sword against the nation's enemies. <<

"If the savage resists, civilization, with the Ten Commandments in one hand and the sword in the other, demands his immediate execution."

Some righteous Republican demanding action against Bin Laden? No, President Andrew Johnson demanding action against Indians, 1867.

>> Charles R. Kesler is editor of the Claremont Review of Books and a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute. <<

The right-wing Claremont Institute, that is. Right-wingers love to fight wars.

Rob


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