Fewer than twenty zealots willingly gave their lives to strike a blow at what they consider an evil enemy. They killed thousands and completely demolished the twin towers which symbolized U.S. domination of world capitalism as well as damaging the symbol of the military muscle which supports it. A televised blow at the American psyche and pride, endlessly replayed by networks feasting on the shock and spectacle.
What about all the American victims? The zealots and their supporters don't see the people killed at those places as "innocent victims."
No, they were accessories -- willing accomplices in the Great Satan's machine. They were civilians; but civilians always suffer in a war. Remember the firestorms of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo? The nuclear nightmares of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? My Lai? Baghdad?
You say those happened in wars? Well, we're in a war. It's what we call a "terrorist war" -- but it's war. A holy war. Jihad. We've been attacked in it before -- at U.S.military sites, embassies, even the World Trade Center.
But we don't seem to realize the nature of the war -- and we can't seem to understand that many people in this world see us as the villains.
Not all of them are Muslims, either. Some are Americans and Europeans -- like those demonstrators who created trouble in Seattle and Rome -- people who see international capitalism as a force of corruption and evil.
An amoral force for the oppression of humankind.
Sure, some of them are anarchists or socialists or communists or kooks. But what they share in common is a hatred of the capitalism which drives this country and others like it.
Few of them would be so fanatical as to spend months learning to fly and then hijack airliners so they could fly them into skyscrapers. Most of them consider it enough to throw rocks and firebombs at police, to smash store windows, and overturn cars. How far you take your symbolic attacks depends on your willingness to sacrifice -- your religious zeal. Religion? Yes. The anger felt by opponents of capitalism is not without its support from sources many Americans consider sacred.
Both Matthew and Luke state: "You cannot serve God and mammon." What shall a man profit if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Many people across the world believe that's just what we've done -- sought riches by oppressing the rest of the world. Therefore, in our service of profit and riches, we've become soulless and evil -- enemies of God. We deserve to be attacked.
No less a patriot and Founding Father than Thomas Jefferson had his doubts.
"Indeed," he said, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."
So we should not be surprised when others -- out of envy, politics, or religious belief -- consider us wicked and attack us.
And look how successful the September 11th attackers were!
They destroyed two of the tallest buildings in the world. They severely damaged the New York City financial district. They shut down Wall Street and all U.S. airlines. They shook stock markets around the world. They created chaos in the operations of numerous subsidiary systems like shipping and insurance. They sent the President of the U.S. and leaders of Congress temporarily into hiding. They exposed the vulnerability of America. They even caused the stoppage of NFL and MLB games.
Shake up the Great Satan? You bet they did. Now, all of us know it's a real war. We saw it on TV!
How do we fight back? The first thing we have to do is understand our opponents. We have to know they're not cowardly or mindless fanatics. We have to recognize their cunning and their dedication. Their patience and their hatred.
Blind retaliation is worthless. We have a bad habit in this country of over-reaction. Ruby Ridge and Waco come immediately to mind. Patience is not our best quality. Neither is respect for opponents. (Read the letters to the editor in this very newspaper.) But if we're going to fight this war, we can't underrate our opponents. Neither can we resort to massive military response. Star Wars defenses won't prevent the hijacking of our own airliners. Missiles won't do. We tried that on Osama Ben Laden before, remember? You can't use a bomb against a box-cutter.
What can we do? I'll deal with some possibilities in columns to come.