As the second anniversary of that other day of infamy approaches, I do not need to see TV replays of what happened. As on a DVD, the images are burned into my mind.
President Bush should stop saying the terrorists hate freedom. They do not think that way. They believe their twisted religion and evil application of it are true freedom - for them and for all who worship their angry and hard-to-appease god. They see us as living in decadent bondage.
For the West to prevail in this war, it is going to take more than the 5,000 new air marshals the president proposed this week, a Department of Homeland Security, the liberation-occupation of Iraq and a still-unsuccessful hunt for Osama bin Laden.
There is a greater enemy than terrorism facing the United States and the West. That enemy is lack of resolve, which has little to do with money and weapons and everything to do with motivation and focus.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday (Sept. 2) that the Bush administration is having trouble enlisting allied governments in its efforts to rebuild Iraq. The reason is that too many governments fear what might happen to them if they give aid and comfort to what the radical Islamists see as the Great Satan. These governments have stupidly and dangerously let too many of the extremists into their countries and, in doing so, have clutched fiery coals to their chests.
Tom Clancy addresses this grave mistake (my pun is intended) in his new novel, "The Teeth of the Tiger." One of Clancy's main characters, "Mohammed," is a terrorist leader from Central Casting. In a commentary on the fuzziness of Western thinking, "Mohammed" says about himself: "How strange that the only lands where he could feel something close to safe were the Christian countries of Europe, which Muslims had struggled and failed to conquer on more than one occasion. Those nations had a nearly suicidal openness to strangers, and one could disappear in their vastness with only modest skills - hardly any, in fact, if you had money. These people were so self-destructively open, so afraid to offend those who would just as soon see them and their children dead and their entire cultures destroyed. It was a pleasing vision, Mohammed thought, but he didn't live within dreams. Instead, he worked for them."
What the United States sees as its greatest strengths - tolerance and openness - our enemies see as our greatest weaknesses.
The Wall Street Journal carried a front-page story Tuesday (Sept. 2) about an Indonesian school that trains terrorists. The alumni of Pesantren al Mukmin, an Islamic boarding school, should appear on a "most likely to succeed" page in a terrorist yearbook. "The school has produced almost all of Indonesia's top terrorist suspects," says the Journal, "including participants in last month's attack on Jakarta's J.W. Marriott Hotel and last October's deadly nightclub bombing on the island of Bali." Indonesia is 90 percent Muslim, and the government fears if it cracks down too much on the extremists it risks an uprising.
While we argue about the place of God in U.S. society, our enemies are not so conflicted. They believe their god wants us dead. No amount of munitions, money and Marines is going to stay these fanatics from their ordained rounds. To them, death is victory. To us, it is tragedy. They are counting on us not wanting to die. They welcome death as a promotion. They believe we will cut and run if they can spill enough of our blood. We regard our blood as precious. They see theirs as the currency of martyrdom.
Newsweek magazine reports that Osama bin Laden is planning an attack that will dwarf 9/11, and this time he plans to strike panic into the populace using biological weapons. Who knows if the report is true? Who doubts that it could be?
Many think the war began two years ago. It began a long time before that. Unlike every other war in which the United States has been engaged, this one will have no end - not as long as there are "Mohammeds" willing to kill and to die in large numbers and to take as many of us with them as they can.
Sept. 11 will not be the last tragedy we will be forced to observe in recurring anniversaries.