New war calls for caution, not fear

Questions about peaceful, diplomatic solutions and the effectiveness of negotiation have been in the air since Sept. 11. Sunday morning, the answers fell on the Afghan cities of Kabul and Kandahar.

We are at war, and will be for a long time to come.

Decades ago, Irish journalist Robert Lynd wrote, “The belief in the possibility of a short, decisive war appears to be the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions.” If we are to make it through this, we cannot afford to hold on to such illusions, tempting as they might be in the face of what lies ahead. There are no easy wars, no quiet wars, no quick wars. War is not safe or clean. In Gen. William Sherman’s words, “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.” Learning to live with it and, more importantly, to live through it, is the challenge ahead of us.

The uncertainty of what will happen next might prove the most difficult to accept. The extreme nature of war has historically brought about the unthinkable. Before the Civil War, a draft was something only done by the French. Before World War I, Americans didn’t need to worry about Europe. Before World War II, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans protected us. Before Vietnam, America did not lose a war. This new war will also bring change. How we react to those changes will determine our success and, perhaps, our survival.

For instance, a possible domestic threat still exists. Investigators estimated there might be more than a dozen associates of the Sept. 11 terrorists still in the United States. The FBI told police Sunday night to be on high alert, possibly to guard against more attacks. If another attack were to occur, this time with the use of biological or chemical weapons, the casualties could be even more staggering than before. Civil liberties could easily be thrown out the window if we are not careful or cognizant of the repercussions of our decisions. If the threat becomes reality, the choice between freedom and security will become even more difficult than it has been during these past few weeks. And there are myriad paths America can take as this war continues..
As stated in The Minnesota Daily’s Oct. 4 editorial, the quickest way to prevent domestic terrorism is to give law enforcement and intelligence agencies radically expanded authority. Would it be worth it? Would we be safer if Congress lifted the assault weapons ban? Would Minnesotans still be against internment camps if thousands died in an attack on Minneapolis? The possibilities are as limitless as they are frightening.

But nearly all are contingent on one other decision, one other choice each individual must make: Am I afraid?

It is by no means a simple choice. People who are threatened must work at fearlessness. It doesn’t come easily, safely or quickly. But then again, we would be clinging to an illusion if we thought this war was going to be any of those. And though the decision might be difficult, others have made the right choice in the past. During World War II, Germany bombed Britain relentlessly for months. The Blitzkrieg destroyed much of London and caused irreparable damage to the city. Still, the raids failed. Designed to beat the population into submission, they served to strengthen people’s resolve. Only their buildings collapsed. Every day they woke up, went to work or school, bought groceries and cooked dinner. The threat of bombing became a near-daily reality, yet those in the city continued their lives as normally as possible.

Officials from Bush to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani have given sound advice lately by asking us to do the same. The situation calls for caution – not fear. The consequences of acting otherwise could be grim. Reaction from the Sept. 11 attacks already wreaked havoc on our economy. The airline industry alone laid off more than 100,000 employees. As the stock market plunged, businesses everywhere began looking to make cuts. This cannot continue. Unfortunately, the current conflict doesn’t hold the same economic promise of past conventional wars. Though the dynamics might soon change, there is no need for a massive military buildup, as there was during both World Wars.

Sept. 11 brought an end to the world as we knew it, including the way global wars were fought. This change also brought increased peril for citizens. The 110th floor of the World Trade Center hardly fits our concept of a battlefield, yet is symbolic of the new war zones characterizing this new war; every citizen is on the front line.

But this new war also no longer limits the ordinary citizen to the role of passive spectator. Like our parents and grandparents, who collected scrap metal and tended their victory gardens, we are entering a time in which our everyday actions become more than symbolic gestures of patriotism and instead strike meaningful blows against our enemies. Every victim’s family that mourns and moves on; every member of the armed forces preparing for service; every citizen who carries on with life in the face of fear – all these send the signal that the United States is here to stay. Adapting our culture does not have to mean surrendering our way of life.