he first great war of the 21st Century began September 11, seemingly out of the blue. The United States is a target because we are powerful, rich, and good. We are resented for our power, envied for our wealth, and hated for our liberty.
Few wars begin like their predecessors. The wars of the last century opened with thrusts into Belgium or Poland, a surprise attack on battleships, a lurch in Kuwait, a steadily accreting campaign of jungle murder. This war began with four hijacked airplanes targeted at the Pentagon, Camp David, and the two World Trade Towers.
No one should think of this as terrorism, which is the effort to spread death and dismay among civilian populations. Much death and grief ensued, but the targets were precisely picked to incarnate American power, democracy, and wealth. The September Massacres were a rational attempt to thwart the will and depress the spirits of the United States.
Our enemies have proximate motives, as political and military actors always do. But let no one imagine that any American policy or lack of it, or any change in our ethnic or religious makeup, could have insulated us from such a strike. The United States is hated because we are, indeed, powerful, rich, and good. Like the temples of Rome sacked by the barbarians, or the Greenwich Observatory that was the target of anarchists in Joseph Conrad's Secret Agent, our national headquarters and totems excite the fear and wrath of those in the world who feel themselves shortchanged. For this historical moment, anyone who has a quarrel with the status quo will find us, with varying degrees of truth, somehow implicated in his discontents. Our exposure to these emotions is an unavoidable badge of honor.
Because this was an act of war, its agents must not be pursued by resolutions, lawsuits, or all the other legalistic and diplomatic devices by which we have tried to combat terrorists in the recent past. President Bush's and Secretary of State Powell's early talk of "hunting down" the perpetrators is misguided. These are not traffic violators to be given a desk ticket at the night court of The Hague. After the time it takes to guess the attackers' commanders, which should not be long, those commanders, and their allies and patrons, should be paved over. If our retaliatory strikes hit a few of the world's warriors who happened not to be involved in this war, that will be no great loss.
News reports showed dancing in the streets of Middle Eastern cities, graphic proof that our enemies are not restricted to cadres of ideologues or leaders. Striking the war-making capacity of hostile nations may involve clearing some of those streets. When that happens, we should not shrink. Our European allies have, in many cases, battened off deals with rogue states. They should be told that, if they continue to do so, their assets in this country may be appropriated to repair the damage done to Washington and New York City.
The vacation that began with the end of the Cold War ended with the summer of 2001. All the twittering about lockboxes, tax cuts, and compassionate this and that; all the chatter about world structures and emerging mobocracies was the sound of locusts. The first duty of the state is to protect the national security. Salus populi suprema lex. We need our diplomats, not to attend conferences and solve the world's problems, but to cut deals that are to our advantage and explain the consequences of actions that are not; we need our military resources, not to run elections and perform social work in the BedStuys and Appalachias of the world, but to punish offenses and intimidate enemies.
The September Massacres would not, of course, have been stopped by missile defense. They were not stopped by aircraft carriers. Does that mean we should have none? No great power seems to have been actively involved, but that does not mean that a great power might not threaten one day to send four warheads somewhere. We must be prepared to meet that threat, as we prepare to repel further attacks of this kind. Such an operation was not the work of a handful of men; there had to be coordination, planning, support. Our intelligence was woefully lacking; our domestic defense capabilities need to be addressed.
Grievous as our losses have been, America has suffered worse in its history, in both pride and blood. The enemy once occupied Washington and burned the White House; until Vietnam, the greatest killers of Americans were brother Americans in the Civil War. The systems and the character that emerged from those torments will emerge from this. The world, we have been taught, is always full of competing views. In the intellectual pine barrens of the West, there are anarchist and neo-Communist stirrings. Islam harbors a fundamentalist strain, a minority even in the Middle East, a small minority worldwide. China is modernizing the Asian road to despotism-a very old road; Confucius warned against it. These options lead to poverty and tyranny. The United States, for all its follies and sins, is the best the world has to offer.
We should therefore be of good cheer. In the darkest early days of World War II Winston Churchill told British diplomats on the European continent to light their windows, to hold the usual functions, to conduct themselves with confidence and spirit. No skulking in bunkers or military bases for him, or for us. Schedule the rebuilding of our wasted icons. Our fellow citizens are lost, but the steel and glass will come back. When it does we will hang out a million flags.