Thomas Sowell

WHILE the casualties in the terrorist attacks are expected to run into the tens of thousands, in a larger sense the casualties run into the millions because we are all affected now and will be as long as we live. People from all over the country have kept the phone lines jammed with calls to New York and Washington, trying to find out if their family and friends are all right.

People far from the scene are nevertheless connected to it, one way or another. Two of my friends in New York witnessed the toppling of the World Trade Center. One was taking her children to school not too far from the explosion -- indeed, not far enough. When she returned to a street that she had just left, there was a woman who had been struck by flying debris and who was bleeding profusely, right where my friend had been standing just minutes before.

The angry reactions of the public make more sense than some of the words coming out of the government. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that what happened was a "tragedy." No! Bubonic plague was a tragedy but Pearl Harbor was an outrage. Bubonic plague caused more deaths, but it was something that just happened, while the Japanese government deliberately chose to attack Pearl Harbor. Another word out of Washington that strikes a false note is that we want to bring those responsible to "justice."

This is not a law and order issue. This was an act of war. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, nobody talked about bringing the Japanese pilots or even their commanders to justice. We declared war on Japan. It so happened that, a couple of years later, the navy learned that Admiral Yamamoto, who had planned the attack on Pearl Harbor, was in the air on a tour of his bases and they sent up some fighter planes that shot down the plane that was carrying him. But nobody talked about ending the war against Japan, just because the individual responsible for bombing Pearl Harbor had gotten justice.

Make no mistake about it. People around the world are watching to see what the American government does in the wake of this terrorist attack. Not what it says, but what it does. There are nations out there with all sorts of weapons of mass destruction who have held back on using them against us for fear of what the retaliation would be. John F. Kennedy said it best: "We dare not tempt them with weakness."

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate