WASHINGTON--It was a portent. At the National Cathedral service three days after the attacks, the congregation, including the president, did not sing the fifth verse of the ``Battle Hymn of the Republic'' as it often has been sung in recent years. Many tender spirits have considered the hymn too bellicose--the grapes of wrath, and the fateful lightning of a terrible swift sword--so the verse has been sung, ``As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.'' At the Cathedral the verse was sung as it was written in 1862, when there was a lot of dying being done: ``As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.''
The Bush administration is telling the country that there is some dying to be done. ``What this war is about is our way of life,'' Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says, ``and our way of life is worth losing lives for.''
If the nation is to think clearly about war, it must ration its use of two recurring words: ``justice'' and ``tragedy.'' The goal is not to ``bring terrorists to justice,'' which suggests bringing them into sedate judicial settings--lawyers, courtrooms, due process, all preceded by punctilious readings of Miranda rights. Rather, the goal is destruction of enemies.
And what America suffered at the hands of its enemies was not a ``tragedy.'' That word is freighted with connotations of blind forces (the San Francisco earthquake) or of inevitable misfortune arising from a deeply rooted flaw or vice (the stuff of ancient Greek tragedies). What erupted on September 11 is a war of aggression. Hence the suitability of the swift response from NATO, a defensive alliance.
Here are two of history's recent oddities. NATO was created to counter the Soviet Union, but in nearly 53 years the only invasion of a NATO member's territory occurred in the South Atlantic, when Argentina attacked the Falkland Islands. And when, on Sept. 12, NATO for the first time invoked Article 5, which stipulates that an attack upon one NATO nation shall be considered an attack on all member nations, the attack in question did not come from an identifiable nation.
Some may think we have been rudely shoved beyond the world first codified by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the world of nation-states exercising a monopoly on the use of force. There has been much recent chatter about new forces--``globalization''; nations ``pooling'' their sovereignty--making nations into flimsy entities of reduced importance. But events are demonstrating the vitality and utility of nations.
Nations govern territory and can be held accountable for what tolerated groups do when enjoying sanctuary in that territory. In combating nations that support terrorists, the pertinent nations are few, and they can be given incentives--offers they can't refuse--to police their portions of the planet.
Such policing was supposed to have been completed long ago. However, as John Keegan, the eminent British military journalist and historian, wrote six months ago, there has been regression:
``The Clauswitzian analysis is breaking down. It is true that war is an extension of policy--but only when waged by stable states. War is escaping from state control, into the hands of bandits and anarchists. The great work of disarming tribes, sects, warlords and criminals--a principal achievement of monarchs of the 17th century and empires in the 19th--threatens to need doing all over again. Not many military establishments possess the skills, equipment and cultural ruthlessness necessary for the task.''
However, U.S. spending on counterterrorism skills and equipment has doubled in the last five years. And U.S. military history does not tell of a culture deficient in ruthlessness.
The civilian culture will take its cues from the top of the political order, and the president's national security staff--two former defense secretaries (Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld), a former general victorious in a complex coalition war, who is also a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs (Colin Powell); a Russia specialist who served on the National Security Council as the Soviet Union crumbled (Condoleezza Rice)--is the most experienced since the George Marshall-Dean Acheson team of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
They will have to sup with some unsavory people, such as Russia's President Putin, the butcher of Chechnya, who has had bitter but useful experience with Afghanistan. But as Churchill said during the Second World War, if Hitler invaded hell, he, Churchill, would find something favorable to say about the devil.