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

Attacks Show That Political Courage Is the Only Real Defense

William Pfaff
International Herald Tribune
Wednesday, September 12, 2001

PARIS The first thing that must be said about the attacks in New York and 
Washington on Tuesday is that they have demonstrated the vulnerability of 
the United States, as of any modern society, to an intelligently prepared 
and determined attack.

Military officials and the uniformed and civilian analytic agencies 
attached to the U.S. defense establishment have for decades formulated 
speculative scenarios of attack on the nation, but their work has all but 
invariably been dominated by the high-technology mind-set of the Pentagon 
and by the engineering ethos of American society.

The planning has always suffered from the planners' assumption that their 
opponent would attack them in a manner symmetrical to the defenses they 
already had or that they planned to have.

Thus they concentrated speculation and planning on the danger of attack 
with mass-destruction weapons, probably using more or less high-technology
methods. The discussion has almost entirely concerned missile attacks, 
rogue nuclear weapons and chemical and biological agents. Rogue commercial
aircraft were not interesting to defense planners.

The real lesson, which was not learned, was provided nearly 60 years ago, 
shortly before the end of World War II, when an American medium bomber, 
lost in the fog, crashed into the Empire State Building in New York City -
then the country's highest building.

The lesson was that exotic methods and high technology are not necessary 
to produce devastating results. On Tuesday the lesson was validated. You 
merely need to crash three old-fashioned airplanes into vulnerable targets
to produce mass panic in the United States, shutdown of most of the 
government and evacuation of the centers of Washington, New York and other
major cities.

The second lesson was that the psychological and political consequences of
such an event are not primarily measured by the scale of the casualties but
by the unexpectedness and drama of the attack. So long as the attack 
remains anonymous, the fear and panic increase.

The effect sought is demonstration of the vulnerability of those who are 
targeted - and the continuing vulnerability of those who might be targeted
the next time. It is to demonstrate that high-technology defenses, of the 
kind in which the United States takes pride, can easily be circumvented, 
using simple methods. It is to demonstrate that there is no real defense 
against an anonymous attack that makes use of the ordinary functioning of 
civilian society.

Such an attack is possible so long as civil airplanes fly, trains run, 
power systems and utilities function, people go to work and business and 
markets continue. Each can be subverted, or intervened in, or exploited in
ways that damage their users and the larger society.

Even a totalitarian security state cannot deal with this - even if it were
to suppress basic civil liberties. It is extremely important to understand 
this, since there will be two natural reactions to what has happened, both
of them essentially futile.

First there will be continuing calls for revenge against whomever is 
responsible, presuming that the author is eventually identified.

The practical uselessness of revenge has repeatedly been demonstrated, and
continues to be demonstrated in the Middle East, since those who employ 
terrorism are not functioning on a pragmatic scale of reward and 
punishment. As the Israelis find, making martyrs of your enemies invites 
further martyrdoms.

The second reaction will be that the United States needs even more 
elaborate defenses than now exist. Yet the Pentagon, CIA, NSA and the rest
of the American apparatus of national security proved incapable of 
preventing the attacks Tuesday. They are incapable of preventing their 
repetition in some other version.

There are no technological defenses, as such, against this sort of thing. 
Surely, if nothing else comes out of the attacks Tuesday, they ought to 
have demonstrated to Americans the irrelevance of national missile defense.

There are ordinary security measures that can be taken or improved, but 
the nature of attacks mounted from within the regular functions of society,
means that no comprehensive or conclusive defense exists. The entire 
history of terrorism in both 19th and 20th centuries has demonstrated that.

The final and most profound lesson of these events is one that it will be 
hardest for government to accept - this government in particular. It is 
that the only real defense against external attack is serious, continuing 
and courageous effort to find political solutions for national and 
ideological conflicts that involve the United States.

The immediate conclusion nearly everyone has drawn about the origin of 
these attacks is that they come out of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. 
It is reasonable to think that this is so, although there is as yet no 

For more than 30 years the United States has refused to make a genuinely 
impartial effort to find a resolution to that conflict. It has involved 
itself in the Middle East in a thousand ways, but has never accepted a 
responsibility for dealing impartially with the two sides - locked in 
their shared agony and their mutual tragedy.

If current speculation about these bombings proves to be true, the United 
States has now been awarded its share in that Middle Eastern tragedy.