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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

Pouring Gasoline on the Fire
by David Dieteman
September 13, 2001

Around 9:15 yesterday morning (i.e., September 11), I got an email from my
sister-in-law telling me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade 
Center. Terrible accident, I figured. Not long after, she let me know that
another plane had hit. My God, I wondered, where would this all end. It was,
by that point, beyond dispute that a hideous and coordinated act of 
terror had taken place. Later, I learned of the planes which hit the 
Pentagon and rural Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

My mind raced to consider who I knew in the World Trade Center, who I knew
at the Pentagon. My cousin is a New York City cop. As far as we know, he is
alive, not having been scheduled to work until 11 a.m. yesterday. He was 
called in to respond to the emergency well before 11 a.m. On the other 
hand, my wife's cousin works at the Pentagon, and we have no idea of her 
whereabouts. It's possible she was at home on maternity leave.

Last night, Fox News was simply depressing. Politicians and pundits called
to "unleash the dogs of war," to wage all-out war on those responsible. The
major difficulty, of course, is that we are not yet certain who is 
responsible (besides those who blew themselves to oblivion) or what is an 
effective way of fighting back.

There were dim and bright spots in the commentary. George Will, again 
showing me why I am no longer a conservative, wrote that

     There can be no immunity from these vulnerabilities, but that 
     is not a reason for fatalism. A proactive policy begins with 
     anticipation. Therefore the first U.S. policy response must be 
     to reevaluate and strengthen the national intelligence assets, 
     particularly the CIA and FBI, which are the sine qua non of 
     Americans are slow to anger but mighty when angry, and their 
     proper anger now should be alloyed with pride. They are targets
     because of their virtues - principally democracy, and loyalty to
     those nations that, like Israel, are embattled salients of our 
     virtues in a still-dangerous world.

Will simply ignores the fact that the Vatican has condemned the actions of
Israel toward the Palestinians. While Palestinian youths throw rocks, 
Israeli troops fire rockets and bullets. The overwhelming majority of 
those who have died since the collapse of the "peace process" have been 
Palestinians. Israel is far from an "embattled salient of virtue." Instead,
the Israeli land-grab policies and assassination campaign against 
Palestinian leaders has thrown gasoline on a fire.

The Vatican has also condemned the American bombing of Iraq. Inconvenient 
to think about that, so ignore it as if it didn't happen.

With respect to the CIA and FBI, they have let us down - again. Oklahoma 
City? Embassies overseas? The USS Cole? As someone who has written in 
defense of Kimmel and Short, I am not calling for scapegoats to be 
sacrificed on the altar of public opinion.

On the other hand, the various federal agencies, with their billions upon 
billions of dollars, failed to prevent yesterday's destruction. If they 
were private companies, they would be fired, if not sued as well. I would 
not, in the words of Newt Gingrich, sanction a "witch hunt" of the 
intelligence agencies, but there are hard questions which must be asked. 
If yesterday's attack was not prevented, what reason is there to believe 
that attacks on less visible (and less well-guarded) targets can be 

Conveniently, Will also ignores the fact that the CIA helped to make Osama
bin Laden, the key suspect, into a powerful man by funding his operations 
against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Although I really should know better by now, this is a bit distressing to 
me. The Washington Post reports that 90% of those polled are "ready to 
risk war." In that case, 90% of those polled would appear to be tragically
short-sighted. Check back with them when their husbands and sons come home 
in metal boxes in the luggage compartment of an Air Force jet.

Worse, 66% responded that they would be "willing to give up some liberties"
in order to combat terrorism. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. In 
order to "save" the Land of the Free, we will make it unfree. This is a 
Pyrrhic victory, plain and simple. It is not victory, but the end of 

The bright spots in the commentary came today, and, perhaps predictably, 
right here. Lew Rockwell, Joseph Sobran, Gene Callahan, Bob Murphy, Ryan 
McMaken, John Keller and Harry Browne (via applied the 
timeless words of Ludwig von Mises from Liberalism, published in 1919: "
everlasting peace can be achieved only by putting the liberal program into
effect generally and holding to it constantly and consistently."

What is "the liberal program?" Liberty and property. Peace and free trade.
Rather than have the American government supply money and armaments to the 
Israeli government, so that yet more Palestinian civilians can be killed, 
we can work for peace by supplying money and armaments to no governments. 
Rather than bully the people of the world into behaving as desired by 
those in Washington, DC, we can allow peaceful cooperation through trade 
by ceasing to interfere in trade.

It is one thing to bring to justice those responsible for yesterday's 
actions. Attempting to wage war on an unknown, unseen enemy, however, is a
different matter. It was a colossal failure in Vietnam. If the United 
States attempts to wage such a war again, it will be worse. Vietnamese 
monks set themselves on fire in the streets to protest the war. They did 
not set fire to American streets in an effort to bring the war home to 
complacent Americans.

Simon Jenkins, writing in the London Times, has it right:

     The message of yesterday's incident is that, for all its horror,
     it does not and must not be allowed to matter. It is a human 
     disaster, an outrage, an atrocity, an unleashing of the madness
     of which the world will never be rid. But it is not politically 
     significant. It does not tilt the balance of world power one 
     inch. It is not an act of war. America's leadership of the West
     is not diminished by it. The cause of democracy is not damaged, 
     unless we choose to let it be damaged.

Terrorists may blow up buildings, but they cannot suspend the Bill of 
Rights. Only we can suspend the Bill of Rights, and the rule of law 
enshrined in the Constitution, by overreacting to yesterday's events. This
is not the time to restrict our liberties yet further, nor is it the time 
to kill even more foreigners with American money, guns, and bombs.

Pride is not sufficient justification to sign the death sentence of 
perhaps millions of innocents. Prudence dictates that we proceed with 
great caution.


Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in 
philosophy at The Catholic University of America.