Thirteen years ago, the attack by terrorists on the heart of America’s Northeast (on the political, military and financial centers of the free world) was more than an aggressive statement against the United States. It was the latest demonstration of hatred by a limited group of extremists worldwide whose mission is to eliminate the spirit of self-determination and free expression that are crucial parts of the democratic process.
The air bombardment of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, by Japan, destroying a major part of our Pacific Fleet, left little doubt in the mind of Americans. We were at war with Japan! Almost everyone wanted to join the fight, to help the common cause in whatever way possible as soon as possible. That day also brought an abrupt change in our partial (though significant) aid to Britain in its struggle against Nazi Germany and Italy, which was supplemented by a full declaration of war, the commitment of American arms and armies to defeat the Axis. In that battle, Russia fought with the Allies.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, there was world support for the United States. The situation differed from that on Dec. 7, 1941, in so many ways that I felt it should be approached in a different way. We should have declared war against world terrorism, formed a co-operative global network to combat — wherever possible to prevent — terrorism and to get at the root causes behind the making of the terrorist. Such a war would involve extensive use of secret services, clandestine operations, cautious sharing of intelligence between departments and across borders, getting inside the head of the terrorist, surgical strikes (as by drones) and emphasis on the use of Special Forces with much less (if any) resort to large numbers of boots on the ground. It should be a war against terrorism, not against nations.
Such an approach might have prevented the alarming rise of ISIS we are witnessing. Of course, it might not have. The grim, present reality of such a brutal, subhuman terror group, however, does offer the USA an opportunity to lead in a global effort to confront terrorism. That war cannot be defined by borders or a specific time frame; we can only presume it would be long and demanding.
Since there is little likelihood terrorism will spontaneously subside, the dreamer in me hopes the current administration is moving cautiously toward the above goal.