We've no choice but to fight
By David Shapiro
It was a feeling of unreal horror to sit before the television watching landmark buildings I had visited many times first in flames and then in rubble.
The only thing I could compare it to was the shock of seeing the space shuttle Challenger explode out of the sky on live TV. But even that wasn't as startling in terms of dimension and lasting implications.
Yesterday's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon are being compared to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the United States into World War II. In some ways the comparisons are stunning. Both were horrific violations that abruptly awakened America to dangers lurking far from our shores that we could no longer ignore.
But there are significant differences, as well. Pearl Harbor was an attack on military and government installations, as were more recent attacks against American targets in the Middle East.
Yesterday's attack used civilian airliners to destroy targets that were mostly civilian, claiming thousands of civilian lives. It takes the conflict to a new level where nobody can feel safe. They could have hit anything.
The response to Pearl Harbor was clear go to war with Japan and its allies and ultimately prevail with superior force. Failure could have meant an America under foreign rule.
Now the nature of warfare has changed, along with the stakes, and the response is not nearly so apparent. We're dealing with terrorist organizations that move from country to country. While they pose no threat to America's sovereignty, they clearly threaten our way of life.
This shadowy enemy has shown once again that it can reach out and touch us in the most frightful way while we've never been able to harness our political and military might to effectively strike back.
Like Pearl Harbor, this most concerted terrorist attack ever seen was an unmistakable declaration of war that leaves us no choice but to fight back. They're daring us to come get them or they're going to keep getting us.
President Bush took up the challenge, declaring, "The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly attacks."
These were virtually the same words spoken by previous presidents after terrorist attacks against U.S. targets in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Tanzania and Kenya. In most of those cases, we didn't find or punish the ringleaders some of whom likely were involved again in yesterday's attack.
The first job is to define exactly with whom we are at war. From the experience of the last half-century, we know we can't end terrorism. But we can do a much more aggressive job of disrupting the few big well-organized groups capable of carrying out an attack of this magnitude. We can make life much less comfortable for countries that harbor terrorists. Random cruise missile attacks on a few tents in the deserts of some of the poorest countries in the world won't get it done.
We need to pay more attention to the bitter hatred of our country that exists in so much of the world not to pander to it but to better understand it so we can more effectively respond.
Most importantly, we must rise up, dust ourselves off and get on with the massive job of rebuilding our security, air travel, financial institutions and peace of mind.
We can't let this outrageous tragedy bait us into shutting down our open society or rashly tampering with the freedoms that support our cherished way of life. Only then will the terrorists have defeated us.
David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com