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Jewish World Review Dec. 7, 2001 / 22 Kislev, 5762

Michael Long

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Consumer Reports

A war bigger than we know

Changing the future, slowly and surely -- Here is what the President said, most recently on December 5: We're in a fight for civilization itself. There are moments when rhetoric overstates the case. This is not one of those times.

The idea of a war against terrorism is so large that citizens tend to cut it into smaller pieces in order to understand it. We are going after Osama bin Laden. We are going after Iraq. We are going to eliminate terrorists, their patrons and their protectors.

But clearly, a "fight for civilization itself" sounds like something more, and it is. The President has a goal in mind greater than the individual elements of this fight. Unlike most Washington-speak, the real objective is quite literally in the rhetoric itself.

Here is what the President has said, amplified and articulated for anyone who cares to listen: We are embarking on a campaign of years if not decades to rid the world not only of individual terrorist threats but also of the notion of terrorism itself. We are reading it out of the future by squeezing it out of the present. Violence premeditated against civilians is not only unacceptable but also unspeakable. Those who practice and propagate these acts must be eliminated, and the very idea that these acts could ever be acceptable must be eliminated along with them.

Mankind can win such a battle, because we have done so before. Example: slavery. Although it still exists in the world, even most non-western peoples are growing in the conviction that slavery negates any claim on being "civilized." It has taken centuries to get to this far, but it was done.

George W. Bush foresees a similar fate for terrorism. In the same way some work to ban landmines as a tool of war, and others work to erase a certain racial epithet used against blacks, President Bush is working to end terrorism as something that civilized human beings employ.

He is working on two fronts. On the first, the one that grabs the headlines, the President is working to isolate and eradicate terrorists, their supporters, and their sanctuaries. We have rightly begun with those who pose a clear and present danger to our own nation, and we will expand the effort to secondary and potential threats to ourselves, and to threats to others. There will be no settlement and no peace made with these groups. There can be no remaining trace of the infection of terrorism if the disease itself is to be wiped out.

The second front is in extending civilization. The President is helping other peoples and nations gain a stake in gaining and keeping peace by working to meet human need of all types. While this cannot responsibly be the primary focus of the effort while the threat to our security is so near, we are seeing action in terms of unprecedented proposals for Arab-Israeli peace; humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees; and a higher profile for American assistance to the third world.

Taken together, and settling in the mind of the world over the course of years, these acts will de-legitimize terror first as a practical tactic and then, ultimately, as a philosophy. The first successes will be instinctual, at the point of a gun: When violent actors see that terror is met with crushing force, they will abandon it because the choice is either that or death. Next, potential terrorists will examine more closely what other terrorists did to earn death and they will recoil from what the terrorists did. With time, a moral revulsion to terror will be born. It is a huge goal, but it is doable. Some terror will always have to be met with overwhelming force, but the heart and soul of it will be caged by moral revulsion.

That response is being taught and learned just now for the first time since America imposed order on a world gone mad in 1941. Perhaps the response learned after another fifty years will be reflexive -- and permanent.

When that time comes, we will have done the world a great service, having taught the world a new instinct for survival and for the protection of civilization, the thing that protects us all.

We're in a fight for civilization itself. Yes, in fact we are.

JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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09/20/01: Encouragement from the Heartland, by mail
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© 2001, Michael Long