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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
17 September 2001

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 2, No. 38

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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A Just Response

A big military response will not prevent another terrorist attack. A hasty attack against the wrong enemy will make things much worse.

by Jerome F. Winzig

The World Trade Center was a place our family knew. Seventeen years ago we were in New York for a wedding and took our children to the top of the World Trade Center. Knowing I wasn't keen on heights, they took great delight in trying to startle me as I stood near the windows. One of the custodians made balloon animals for each of our children. Several years later I was there again, this time on a business trip. It was a place of good memories.

Today the horror and grief are so overwhelming that it seems obvious the United States needs to respond forcibly. Before we do, however, we need to identify the attackers and understand what motivates such suicide attacks. Only then can we determine a just response. If we react too quickly or carelessly we may do far more harm than good.

Shutting down air traffic nationwide and imposing drastic new travel restrictions assumes that security lapses were critical in the attacks. Activating National Guard reserves assumes there is a military solution. Talking about going to war assumes we know the enemy and share no blame at all in Tuesday's evil events. Focusing on Osama Bin Laden and Afghanistan assumes the perpetrator of this heinous crime is a single individual from a poor, landlocked mountainous country.

If we continue this rush to judgment, then our response will not be just, the wrong people will be punished, terrorism will continue unabated, the innocent victims of Tuesday's attacks will have suffered and died in vain (including, perhaps, a special custodian), and their families' mourning will never end.

We do not yet know who to punish. According to press reports, the United States has already asked Pakistan and Iran to close their borders to Afghanistan. Yet our past efforts to isolate the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan have only served to increase that country's poverty, producing additional refugees. A few weeks ago, Indonesia and Australia turned away hundreds of Afghan refugees on board an overloaded ship thousands of miles from Afghanistan.

Our efforts to levy sanctions against entire countries because of the atrocious deeds of their leaders has been singularly unsuccessful. Saddam Hussein is still in power in Iraq and Kim Il Sung's son rules in North Korea while their people suffer from malnutrition and their children die from lack of medication.

It is not likely we will truly pursue and punish all those involved in the attacks. What will we do if we discover -- as is quite probable -- that one or more wealthy oil sheiks helped fund last week's terrorist attacks? Will we insist that Saudi Arabia and others turn those responsible over to justice and refuse to buy any oil from them if they do not? Will we curb our appetite for gas-guzzling cars and ever-larger homes, drill for oil in Alaska and elsewhere in the United States, and authorize additional nuclear power plants? Or will we instead conceal any culpability on the part of people in big oil-producing states?

We do not yet know how to prevent future terrorism. We're instituting massive new security measures that will penalize the airline industry, force airport vendors out of business, and slow down interstate commerce. But the next terrorist blow is likely to come from an entirely different quarter. Perhaps we should be looking at how to prevent a chemical or biological weapons attack (like a deliberate smallpox epidemic) instead of calling up the reserves.

We're delivering ultimatums with deadlines to Afghanistan. Perhaps we should be looking at how to curb the excesses of American culture that other countries -- and many Americans -- find profoundly offensive. These excesses fuel a climate of hate that helps terrorists recruit additional fanatics. How long can we continue making pornography available worldwide on the Internet? How long can we let MTV corrode the values of young people? How long can we continue to export American trash television programs?

The United States is certainly a beacon of hope and democracy for the rest of the world, and there is much that is good about this country. However, some of our national policies impoverish people in other countries and create incredible antagonism. For 50 years our guilt about the Holocaust has led us to provide unquestioned support for Israel. Our news media pays too much attention to Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian terrorists while ignoring the day-to-day suffering of the Palestinian people. Our trade policies deny developing countries equal access to our markets. Our approach to the drug problem emphasizes the interdiction of drug suppliers in other countries even though the American demand for drugs provides millions of dollars to drug lords everywhere.

A just response means we must track down and punish the perpetrators no matter who they are or where they live. At the same time, however we need to change those aspects of our culture that are morally offensive, take precautions against other terrorist threats, and revise our foreign policy so all nations have access to the advantages of globalization. Anything less will not solve the problem.

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