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Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 2001 / 7 Tishrei, 5762

Jim Wooten

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With global support waffling, U.S. must take responsibility -- LISTEN carefully to the words. The process is under way. An act of war not yet two weeks past and the equivocators and negotiators have begun attaching conditions to America's necessary conduct. Be alert and read the signs clearly: Expressions of fear, outrage and sympathy do not convey commitment.

China, for example, is sympathetic, but insists on these conditions: that innocent people not be hurt, that military and other actions only be taken after consultation with the U.N. Security Council and that concrete evidence of individual guilt or state sponsorship of terrorism be submitted before responding. The Bush administration immediately and properly dismissed preapproval by the United Nations. "We're not about to do that," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

French President Jacques Chirac stumbled over the word "war" in pledging to support U.S. efforts against terrorism. The Russians and other nations in the vicinity of Osama bin Laden's network send mixed signals. "We fully understand that some nations will be comfortable supporting overt activities, some nations will be comfortable supporting covert activities," said President Bush. "Some nations will only be comfortable with providing information. Others will be helpful and will only be comfortable supporting financial matters. I understand that."

Ultimately, however, the United States bears sole responsibility for protecting its soil and its citizens from world terrorism. It's an interest we share with all nations, but all of them will act in their own national interests. Israel, Great Britain, Australia and perhaps Turkey and India, with meaningful financial and symbolic support from Japan and some of our NATO allies, are likely to be in our corner. But ultimately this is our responsibility.

This nation, too, wrestles in ambivalence. American public policy in recent decades has been drifting to its feminine instincts. War is a masculine exercise; aggressiveness and brutality are channeled to the destruction of people and places. Nurturing, protecting the children, avoiding risk and confrontation, are feminine.

Clearly, masculine and feminine perspectives and behaviors are not gender-specific. Some of the most important female world leaders --- Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Jeane Kirkpatrick ---- were essentially masculine in their leadership styles. Some males, Jimmy Carter for example, or Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), are essentially feminine. One is not better or worse.

In general, one political party tends to attract one perspective --- Democrats have been described as the "mommy" and Republicans the "daddy" party. But that's not absolute. U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, for example, is decidedly masculine in his reaction to terrorism, as he is on most issues: "I say bomb the hell out of them. If there's collateral damage, so be it. They certainly found our civilians to be expendable."

As Bush attempts to mobilize a world response, America struggles with its own, with its masculine and feminine impulses. While Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are masculine in their choice of language to prepare the nation for the difficulties ahead, a strong countercurrent of the feminine competes in the public arena. As initial shock and outrage subside, a competing call for confrontation avoidance, for understanding, for withholding judgment, for protecting the children from the intrusion of evil, for national healing that spares us from casualties ahead. It's a very feminine impulse to spare the national family from future suffering.

One twist of language, for example, is to describe what happened on Sept. 11 as criminal acts rather than acts of war. A crime means that our wrath is limited to the perpetrators, as individuals, and the goal is "justice" in the legal sense.

It's not a mere crime or a criminal enterprise. It's an act of war that invites a war in response. This is not the People of the United States vs. Osama bin Laden. It's the People of the United States vs. Terrorism, and its networks and its state sponsors.

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© Jim Wooten