Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2002 / 5 Tishrei, 5762

James J. Cramer

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Yesterday was and always will be Sept. 11 until our enemies are vanquished: The making of a hawk


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- Until 19 Arab hijackers killed thousands of Americans a year ago, I thought the world was a pretty safe place. I favored a smaller military, an open and free society and a rigorous support of the Bill of Rights, one that would guarantee privileges to all who lived in this country -- yes, even the aliens among us who struggled so hard to get here.

I believed that if we could get Arabs and Israelis together in a room, we could solve that crisis, just as the Northern Irish crisis was defanged through negotiation and patience. I even thought we would see peace, a world dominated by a Pax Americana, in which economic growth would lead to a safer, stronger community that would be safe for my children and their children and their children's children. I love you, you love me, we are a happy family, this land is your land, this land is my land; you get the picture.

And then, on Sept. 11, a quarter of a mile away from where I was sitting, something occurred that was so horrific, so despicable, so evil and so darned foreshadowing of the future, that I realize in retrospect that I was a dreamer, an appeaser and, alas, a fool. In my lifetime we, as a people, have had enemies who wanted to win us over to their ways, enemies who wished we would change our culture and enemies who would fight our soldiers if we fought theirs.

But in my lifetime, we never have had enemies who wanted to kill us, all of us, and had the means to do so. Sure, the Soviets were formidable enemies in the early 1960s when the Cold War was in full swing, but somehow that wasn't really a war. No bombs. No dead and mangled bodies in our own streets. With the terrorist attack, this enemy made good on that threat, obliterating 16 acres of U.S. soil and virtually everyone who was on that cherished land. We never faced true extermination before, until now. Even before my lifetime, we never had opponents who hated us so much that they would gladly kill themselves if they knew that it would kill many of our civilians. Even the Japanese kamikaze pilots limited their casualties to combatants. Perhaps the Nazis were joyous in their extermination of 6 million Jews -- we know many were, while others just viewed it as Job One -- but even they, with hearts filled with the blackest of evil, chose not to dance in the streets with their women and children to celebrate the destruction of innocents.

Now I can't get it out of my head how unsafe we are. I can't get it out my head how much I believe that unless we destroy this enemy with the same deliberate force that we used to destroy our enemies in World War II, including the use of unthinkable weapons when it was clearly necessary to do so, my dreams of what my children and their children will want are, quite simply, so much pipe smoke.

And my belief colors everything I do. I go by the World Trade Center's mass grave every day, and it surely is as much a grave as those Civil War battlegrounds that I have seen in Gettysburg, Pa., and Antietam, Md.

I think these acts of war in 2001 were mere warnings of what is to come. Because the terrorists' success -- and they were far more successful than Pearl Harbor's attackers -- emboldens a whole movement to believe that the U.S. can be erased from the earth. That such a fate could come to pass seems almost fanciful as we debate whether we should attack Iraq -- a worthy debate given that the hijackers were mostly from Saudi Arabia and tacitly backed by that cowardly regime, not Iraq -- but to me, the Ground Zero site I go by each morning reminds me that such a nightmare can become fact, not remain fiction.

I keep thinking that these same terrorists -- don't forget, they are alive and uncaptured -- are thinking, now, for irony's sake, let's get an El Al airplane, hijack it, bring a nuclear device on board and crash it into a children's hospital for a few laughs. Laughing all the way to our Armageddon.

I now regard our great bulwark of laws that protect individual rights against the right of a potential intrusive government as a plaything of our enemies. I regard the defenders of the Middle Eastern status quo, where the hijackers got their sponsorship as appeasers, as the kind that Winston Churchill faced in Neville Chamberlain and his appeasement policy. I regard the dissent from the war effort against the nations that hide and nurture Al Qaeda terrorists as a flirtation with treason. And I think the way to remember the dead is not so much to view them as the casualties of a horrid moment but as a precursor to what will happen to you and me if we act as if this were a matter of law enforcement for a free society.

Stop the mourning, and start the bombing, if you want it in the plain Wall Street way we are taught to express ourselves. If we act like this is business as usual, just another enemy like the Soviets during the Cold War, or yes, even the Nazis of World War II, we will be playing into precisely the hopes of the terrorists: that we approach their unconventional American genocide with a conventional, and ultimately, Vietnam-like, war effort, one that ends with us exhausted and them triumphant.

We can't let that happen.

Strong military? Can't make it strong enough. I hope my children join up when they are old enough, and I wish I were younger so I could serve. Heck, I want my kids to go to the military academies. Strong FBI and CIA? I regret that these organizations have been so emasculated by organizations and politicians I once supported. The need to vanquish our enemies? It's life or death to me -- their deaths, not ours.

So, we talk about Sept. 11 in dulcet tones and worried voices. We tiptoe around what happened. We mourn. The media's still grieving, for heaven's sake, even as the victims' families are trying so hard to move on.

But for me, it is a day that will be repeated again and again in our country unless we recognize that the evil we fight is just beginning its assault against us. And the masterminds, again, alive and well in radical mosques and cells around the world, aren't happy so far with what they have accomplished.

They, the enemy, have much more to do. Meanwhile, some of us are still trying to figure out whether this enemy is really worth fighting because perhaps there is some sort of just cause behind the enemy's movement, or worse, because it is inevitable that the enemy will strike again, so what can we really do about it?

The terrorists' cause is not Islam, it is not even radical Islam. It is nihilism. The terrorists believe in absolutely nothing other than destroying the lives of others. That's the terrorist creed; think of it as if the devil himself finally had a home team, and don't for a moment try to understand them or reason with them or believe our laws are meant to protect them.

Yes, my heart has been hardened by what my head saw on that awful day and it will remain hardened until the good guys -- and don't doubt for a moment who they are, either -- wipe out all of the bad guys. Do we have to go it alone? Who cares? England went it alone. Our allies weren't attacked as we were. They don't know what it's like or have long forgotten what it's like to be bombed as we were a year ago.

How can one justify such a swing in thinking on the basis of just one day's worth of attacks? Go back in history. Look at the people in this country who were opposed to fighting the last Axis of evil that proclaimed us as an enemy. In the U.S., we had isolationists and pacifists and disarmament types galore in the 1930s and even in the first year of a new awful decade, 1940. Then Pearl Harbor happened, and only the cranks and the fools stayed that course. The nation united in recognizing the need to preserve and defend itself at all costs.

That's where we are now. For those of you who don't know that yet, I recommend you go see the sailors of the battleship Arizona in its permanent lagoon tomb. Or take a look in my closet, where I keep the pair of Rockport wingtips that I wore Sept. 11, untouched, because I know what made up those gray ashes wedded to the soles and the uppers that fateful, horrible day.

In years to come, there will be people who stayed pacifist or ignorant or oblivious to what has happened, and they will be looked upon in later history as cowards or dreamers or fools. And then there will be the people who saw Sept. 11 for what it was, a declaration of war against us, and acted accordingly. I want nothing more than to be in the latter camp, if only because yesterday was and always will be Sept. 11 until our enemies are vanquished.



James J. Cramer is a director and co-founder of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, James J. Cramer