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Blame America At Your Peril

Critics of the war on terrorism don’t seem to understand: someone is trying to kill them

By Jonathan Alter NEWSWEEK

Oct. 15 issue — After we attack the Taliban and the terrorists strike us again, you know what’s going to happen. A big old-fashioned peace movement will emerge that blames the United States for whatever further destruction is inflicted. We’ll be told that we “prompted” or “provoked” the gas attack, football-stadium bombing, assassination attempt, whatever. How do I know? Because a sizable chunk of what passes for the left is already knee-deep in ignorant and dangerous appeasement of the terrorism of Sept. 11. While moderate liberals (and even Christopher Hitchens) seem to get who the bad guys are, some of their brethren farther left—especially on college campuses—are unforgivably out to lunch.

LIKE PRESIDENT BUSH and the vast majority of the country, I’m for a targeted war that tries hard to avoid civilian casualties, Islamic blowback and other unintended consequences. And I’ll defend forever the right of anyone to say any stupid thing without being fired or hassled by the authorities. But some of what’s being said can truly try one’s patience, and I’m not just talking about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson’s “Blame Homosexuality First” approach to explaining the attack.

The only thing worse than a silly politician analyzing art is a silly artist analyzing politics. The New Republic’s “Idiocy Watch,” which is cataloging the fatuities, is full of the musings of novelists. Best-selling writer Barbara Kingsolver, confused by the patriotism around her, asked in the San Francisco Chronicle whether the “flag stands for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and shoving the Constitution through a paper shredder? Whom are we calling terrorists here?” Talk about ironic: the same people always urging us to not blame the victim in rape cases are now saying Uncle Sam wore a short skirt and asked for it.

This mindless moral equivalency is the nub of what lefties mean when they talk about “the chickens coming home to roost,” or “reaping what you sow.” Talk about ironic: the same people always urging us to not blame the victim in rape cases are now saying Uncle Sam wore a short skirt and asked for it. A haughty Susan Sontag made it sound as if we were the ones being thickheaded for not seeing that Sept. 11 was a perfectly understandable response to years of American policy.

Obviously, some policies—like the United States’ stationing troops in Saudi Arabia—have contributed to Osama bin Laden’s rage. But there’s a big difference between understanding Islam and the history of the region, which we need much more of, and understanding evil, which is not just offensive but impossible.

Sad to say, the line between explaining terrorism and rationalizing it has been repeatedly breached by a shallow left stuck in a deep anti-American rut. For certain (fortunately powerless) tenured radicals and antiwar vets, this post-Vietnam reflex seems as comfortable as an old sandal. While most Americans view history through a “Greatest Generation” World War II prism, this remnant remembers how wrong that analogy was for Vietnam. The left was on target then: for years the United States refused to negotiate much with the communists out of a misplaced fear of seeming to be Neville Chamberlain-style appeasers.

But history moves on, even for aging ideologues heavily invested in the past. “National security” is not a government cover story anymore, but a genuine problem. The terrorists we’re looking for aren’t pathetic little pamphleteers, like the American communists targeted in the Red Scare. Reactionary left-wingers are still so busy thinking the CIA is malevolent that they forget to notice it’s incompetent; so busy nursing stale resentments that they forget to notice someone is trying to kill them. “The causal business is really pernicious,” says Peter Awn, a professor of Islamic religion at Columbia who says it results from ignorance of the complexities of the region. “People are going back to the one area they know something about—the Israeli-Palestinian struggle—and that’s a shame. It shows their ability to understand the rest of the Islamic world is minimal.”

The trick is to learn some lessons from the past without implying that we had it coming. We’ve done that before. After World War II our leaders saw that the punitive Versailles peace treaty following World War I had helped pave the way for Hitler. So we tried the generous Marshall Plan instead and it worked. But that came later. Only a fool would have given credence to Hitler’s grievances, however legitimate a few of them were, while we were fighting him. And none but a fool would say, as the novelist Alice Walker did in The Village Voice, that “the only punishment that works is love.” We’ve tried turning the other cheek. After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing we held our fire and treated the attack as a law-enforcement matter. The terrorists struck again anyway. This time the Munich analogy is right: appeasement is doomed.

America Firsters grasped this point after Pearl Harbor and the isolationists ran off to enlist. So why can’t Blame America Firsters grasp it now? Al Qaeda was planning its attack at exactly the time the United States was offering a Mideast peace deal favorable to the Palestinians. Nothing from us would have satisfied the fanatics, and nothing ever will. Peace won’t be with you, brother. It’s kill or be killed.

-- Martin Thompson (, November 03, 2001


It's kill or be killed
How pathetic an outlook Jonathan carries. That he can only see doom and gloom saddens my heart. I'm raising a 9 and 11 year old. I wonder how he would teach the kill or be killed to them so they can pass that quality of life to their children. (Yeah, I know. It's pretty optimistic to think my kids might live long enough to teach...)

-- Critt Jarvis (, November 03, 2001.

How do the Taliban teach KILL ALL THE INFIDELS to their children?

-- jimmie-the-weed (, November 03, 2001.

The kill or be killed dictum is nothing more than facing the reality of the moment, something, unfortunately, we, from time to time in history, have to do.

-- Uncle Fred (, November 03, 2001.

Uncle Fred, the "reality of the moment" is exactly what is at issue here.

Is the U.S. in fact the innocent "rape victim" as Mr. Alter obscenely suggests? Or is Uncle Sam in fact the world's leading terror organization?

I do not support the use of terror or the use of war to project power. I do not support terror against us, and I certainly do not support Uncle Sam's efforts to overthrow regimes around the world, prop up dictators, and portray itself as innocent.

There is a taoist saying, "Conduct your triumph as a funeral." Think on this before advocating war.

Mr. Alter's piece is propaganda. Nothing more. Nothing less.

-- neil (, November 03, 2001.


If I understand what you are saying is that the attack on the WTC is a payback for past sins of the United States.

Lets see now, maybe we do the Golden Gate bridge, a few nuclear power plants. Would that be enough to satify you or maybe a smallpox epidemic would even the score.

Talk about propaganda, sheesh.

-- Martin Thompson (, November 03, 2001.

Nothing justifies genocide. The WTC attack could be considered an act of genocide (read the Genocide Convention - a treaty the US has shunned, by the way), I certainly think it is.

But one genocide doesn't justify another one.

I doubt anyone has the answer, if there is one, on how to prevent worse atrocities. But bombing Afghanistan doesn't seem to be helping. If one is trying to get rid of a hornet's nest, throwing rocks at it is likely to get you stung even worse. (Not the greatest analogy) Most of the muslim world are not followers of Bin Laden, and it would be nice for our foreign policy to be based on this, and push policies that make it less likely for the 90% to radicalize more. The US received a LOT of sympathy from the so-called Third World after 911 for the humanitarian disaster -- imagine the reactions around the world if we sent solar panels, water purifiers and similar technologies instead of cluster bombs and cruise missiles ... Unlikely Doves: Counterterrorists Abdul Haq: US Bombs Are Boosting the Taliban: Days Before the Taliban Killed Him, Abdul Haq Argued Against the US Raids... CIA veteran explains why bombing won't solve terrorism problem

-- mark (, November 03, 2001.

Better check your dictionary.

Genocide-The systematic extermination of racial and national groups.

-- Martin Thompson (, November 03, 2001.

O.K. Martin, if you're out there still. Suppose we take the "Kill or Be Killed" advice seriously. Tit for tat. They kill some of ours, we kill some or all of theirs.

Question: Once we've eliminated all of whomever is responsible for 9/11 then what happens next? What is the post-vengeance scenario that you perceive?

Is there an eventual end to the tribal warring, or do we just need to accept that war is a permanent way of life for the 21st Century?

With our increasingly effective tools of mass destruction, how long does the tribal warfare continue before something irreversible happens to the planet, or to ourselves?

Is there a way to break the endless cycle of violence using our brains, rather than tools of destruction? Or will this require a quantum leap in evolution that is simply beyong us at this time?

-- Lori Cabirac (, November 05, 2001.

Wow, at last a forum with some sentient beings!

Great exchange of ideas, folks. I'll be back.

Meanwhile, here's my 2c worth. We can wait for a decade or so, as we did in Viet Nam, before the vast majority of the US population finally figured out what was going on, or we can start seriously looking at ALL sides of the current issues NOW, before too much more killing, counter killing, killing, occurs.

Very good points you made, Lori. I'm not sure if the majority of Americans has ever had the courage to even CONSIDER the leap to which you referred. But I hope they will, sooner than later.

Jumpoff Joe

-- joj (jump@off.c), November 05, 2001.

At the risk of being perceived to have "an agenda" (i.e. not seeing things exactly the way Martin does,) let me enter the fray here.

A better analogy than "USA wearing a short skirt and therefore asking for it," would be the case of a serial mugger being mugged. A lot of people would have mixed feelings about such an event, even if, in principle, they are certainly against mugging. The analogy is, of course, imperfect, because the direct victims of 9/11 were not those responsible for US crimes overseas, but broadly, it's not a bad fit.

What to do about the whole situation? I certainly don't know. But it would be best to avoid making things worse.

-- number six (!@!.com), November 05, 2001.

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