Attack: How do we react?

The more I think about this horrible tragedy that occured September 11, the more I feel that a major military reaction is the wrong way to go.

It's pretty clear by now that this is not one easily identifyable country that declared war on us and we can declare war on them (as was the case with Pearl Harbor). What we're dealing with here is a small extremist fraction of a people who have essentially been around for well over a thousand years. They are not new. The Moors, for example, that threatened to overrun Europe were fanatical Arab Islamic fundamentalists. They eventually settled in Spain after having been rebuffed in an effort to overrun all of Europe by Charles Martel in 732 AD and stayed there for several hundred years, adding quite significantly to the culture of Spain.

So now Islamic fundamentalists, likely in a reaction to the rapid rise of the technology-oriented Western civilization are making a comeback in several parts of the world, and some of them are murderous fanatics. What do we do?

Say we were to identify Afghanistan and two or three other countries to be sympathetic to the terrorists, what can we really do? Not much. We could nuke those countries, which would be a terrible idea (though we nuked Japan and we are now friends), or we could reduce them to rubble with conventional weapons. That would be quite a logistical task, would kill a huge number of innocents, and engrain us in the population as their countries' arch enemy, thus fostering new hatred which will inevitably spawn more action. And it's not even certain that even a mighty US military strike would have much impact.

Iraq was an easy and easily accessible target and our bombings didn't do much to them. Heck, Russia was essentially defeated in its war against Afghanistan and they are right next door. For us it'd be much worse because Afghanistan sits in the middle of a continent, flanked by such powderkegs as Pakistan, China, Iran, and a number of unstable former Soviet countries.

So military action is definitely an iffy solution, though it would certainly be good for our anger and frustration. But that won't last because there will be casualties, possibilities of escalating wars, and future implications.

So what do we do?

Personally, I am leaning towards using our strengths in the area of technology, democracy, and inclusion. There is already existing technology that could provide a much greater degree of safety without much intrusion into our lives. Casinos have been using very sophisticated face recognition to identify people without them even noticing. That could be used in airports and elsewhere. 3D imaging scanners could do a much better job at identifying objects. And, knowing that a trained assassin doesn't need more than his hands, the general layout of planes could easily be changed to make hijacking logistics almost impossible. Our satellites and aircraft control systems could be enhanced to keep planes from entering certain zones and to avoid buildings and other places. All this has already been suggested in articles. Our incredible electronics industry could do wonders.

I also think that the "James Bond" approach to fighting terrorism would be better and cheaper than using aircraft carriers. By that I mean a beefed up and much better equipped intelligence community that could prevent more of such action and quietly handle those conflicts away from the public eye.

Finally, we need to realize that we all share this world. The "other side" may use ways and means unthinkable to us, and there will always be a contingent of crazies, but by and large we're all people and we all believe that what we do is right, necessary, and justified. If we are indeed the beacon of democracy and freedom, then we must strive to find ways to deal with all people on this earth in those same democratic ways, ways in which all have a say, course and actions are decided democratically, and the strong and rich look out for the weak and poor. If that were the case, the weak and poor would feel heard and appreciative of that rather than angry and frustrated. And the really bad guys would be brought to justice in memorable ways (like the folks at the Nuremberg trials and later Eichmann). That, at least, is the way it ought to be.

All of the above is really much easier said than done and perhaps we are not ready for it, just as we aren't even ready yet to afford all of our own people the same rights. And perhaps the thought of a world where our so highly cherished goals of freedom and democracy are universally applied is an illusion.

After all, the history of evolution is a constant cycle of strong aggressive entities branching out and taking over and then eventually growing complacent and soft, at which point the next round of strong and aggressive barbarians take over, and so on. If one favors that point of view, then the answer is "Sorry guys, but right now WE are the meanest son of a bitch in the valley and WE make the rules. You don't behave and we'll beat the crap out of you!"

I do hope we have the wisdom to take the big picture into consideration and then do the best possible thing.

Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, September 15, 2001