Both men ignored the more telling lesson of Nov. 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall cracked. From 1947 until 1989 -- despite the inconclusiveness of the Korean War, despite the existence of Cuba as a Soviet satellite 90 miles from Florida, despite draft dodgers and Weathermen terrorists, despite the American retreat from Vietnam, despite the Watts riots of 1964, despite Watergate, despite the humiliating 1979 occupation of the U.S. embassy in Tehran -- the U.S. successfully contained and defeated the U.S.S.R. in the Cold War's long and tedious struggle.
That took extraordinary persistence. It took resilient, adaptable, creative and able American military and security services. Most of all, it took the basic, consistent support of the American people, the ones who go to work, pay the bills, wear the police and military uniforms, and, to paraphrase John Kennedy, will "bear any burden ... to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
As the Cold War ended, another twilight struggle began, one America didn't notice and didn't want. Al-Qaida attacked the World Trade Center in 1993. Al-Qaida operatives attacked U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. The attack on the USS Cole was an al-Qaida operation.
America, however, did not ignore the horror of 9-11. Another long struggle for the terms of modernity had begun, one that would pit multifarious America and its radical experiment in liberty against murderous religious fanatics whose vision of the future linked 21st century technologies with 12th century feudalism, 20th century dictatorships and tribal misogyny.
The religious fanatics bet on their will to win, their will to persist.
The U.S. special operations team that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was the tip of a very long spear made of intelligence agencies, military services and police departments. It is a spear wielded by the American people.
The bottom line to bin Laden's death is this: Don't attack America. The line above the bottom line? Don't underestimate America.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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