Shibboleths versus survival

Posted: Dec 06, 2001 12:00 AM

Nearly two months after the September 11th terrorist attacks, the grim reality of our situation has still not set in for many people in the media and in politics. There are whole international networks and governments devoted to our destruction -- and it is only a matter of time before they have nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Some say that we are in more danger than at any time since World War II. But the American homeland, and especially its civilian population, never sustained such casualties and destruction during all of World War II as it did on September 11th. Nor were any of our enemies in a position to wipe an American city off the map during World War II.

We are in greater danger today. And the war against us has only begun. Yet there are people who think that war and peace are a choice we have -- and who publicly preen themselves as being for "peace."

Media complaints that the war in Afghanistan was not yet over, after a month of bombing, was another sign of the utter unreality of much of the media. So too were the repeated questions about whether we would continue to bomb during Ramadan. Islamic countries have fought each other during Ramadan and they attacked Israel during Yom Kippur. Since when are wars fought by some book of etiquette?

The most reckless and irresponsible signs of unreality among people in high places are coming from the Senate Judiciary Committee, where its chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, is carrying on his own political jihad against Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The Justice Department is holding hundreds of suspected terrorists and President Bush wants to hold military tribunals for foreign terrorists, instead of putting them into the American criminal justice system. Senator Leahy is leading the charge of those opposed to these policies.

Does it occur to those who are making so much noise about the detention of suspected terrorists that the fact that there has been no follow-up terrorism to compare with that perpetrated on September 11th may have something to do with the fact that so many terrorist suspects are behind bars? Or are liberals still not prepared to admit that keeping some people locked up is one way to reduce dangers to society?

Are they still on the "root causes" kick after all these years? Have they forgotten how crime rates skyrocketed after "root causes" because liberal dogma in the 1960s? Or how crime fell after more criminals began to be sent to prison in the 1980s?

As for military tribunals, do Senator Leahy et al have any idea how vulnerable our civilian courts -- our judges, our juries -- are to terrorist threats? How our elaborate "discovery" procedures can destroy our ability to gather intelligence on terrorists, because intelligence sources dry up when they know that what they say can be revealed in court and broadcast around the world by CNN?

There is no point in the critics of military tribunals wrapping themselves in the Constitution, which deals with the rights of American citizens. Nobody is talking about trying American civilians in military courts.

Those who like to think of themselves as citizens of the world may be offended by the distinction between American citizens and others. Those who want all our rights extended even to our enemies do not understand that survival is the number one right. Without survival, all your other rights don't amount to a hill of beans. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson once put it: "The Constitution of the United States is not a suicide pact."

The common sense of the great majority of the American people has thus far prevailed, but the political snipers and ideological underminers carry on in the media, in academia and in Congress. And their shibboleths still carry weight.

Because of their shibboleths, we cannot even discuss our loose immigration policies which have brought in vast numbers of people from hostile countries. We cannot even discuss letting airline pilots be armed, even though just a couple of handguns could have saved thousands of American lives and two skyscrapers.

How much bigger price may we yet have to pay for the unreality and the preoccupation with moral preening of our own underminers in our midst?