by Ari Armstrong, September 15, 2001
"Hold your fire -- Keep it burning bright..." --Neil Peart of Rush
In New York, as Broadway lit up once again, the sentiment was, "Let the show go on."
E.J. Dionne, Jr. expressed well the spirit of defiance: "[O]ur central resolve must be to go on being Americans, to remain a people who cherish our liberties and never allow a small, mad group to push us into questioning the value of freedom" http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A28599-2001Sep14.html.
Numerous people have urged the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. I couldn't agree more. Make them the tallest buildings in the world. Jonah Goldberg said, "[I]f we must have a shrine or monument for our remorse, let's put it on the 200th floor, right next to the antiaircraft guns" http://www.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg091301.shtml.
Bryan Larson made a painting which right now carries a special meaning. It's titled "A New Height" and it may be viewed digitally at http://www.cordair.com/larsen/anewheight.htm.
For me, the most heartening -- and heart-wrenching -- story of heroism involved the downed flight, when a few brave Americans chose to fight back and likely prevented the plane from hitting another target (possibly Congress).
That is the spirit of America. Putting your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor on the line to do what's right. In risking their own lives, they kept a glimmer of hope alive for the passengers' survival. But they knew they were likely to die. They also knew if they didn't confront the terrorists their plane would be used as a weapon of mass destruction.
"Would I have done the same?" By holding up these American heroes and contemplating their achievement, each of us learns the principles of courage we may need at some moment of crisis. When the story of 9-11 is told in the history books, a centerpiece of the account should detail these heroic acts.
The story is incredibly sad, especially because at least two of the men who attacked the terrorists were able to contact their wives by phone from the plane. One of the men joked darkly with his wife that he was ready to go, because he had a plastic butter-knife from breakfast.
We can all be proud to call him our countryman.
Of course, only plastic butter-knives will now be allowed at airports and on planes. What an insult to our intelligence and to American pride. Terrorists using forks or their trained bare hands could have done as much harm.
Brian Schwartz sent me these comments: "I'm sure this should go without saying, but if an airline started advertising that their pilots and flight attendants were, instead of being trained to serve food and drink, trained in hand-to-hand combat, and how to use hand guns, I'd fly on it. But that would be illegal. I thought of this when I heard on the radio that the terrorists did it with friggin' packing knives. Pathetic." Brian suggested the name, "Ninja Airlines." Maybe a good slogan would be, "We eat terrorists for lunch."
Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership made a similar point. "Passengers and crew have been herded -- and note that word well, herded -- to the back of the plane.... Can't think what do to. Can't act.... And why should we have expected otherwise? Americans have been told repeatedly never to resist crime, always to submit to any demand a thug makes of them. Always go along -- for safety's sake. Go along in order to avoid angering the criminal. We've been told always to submit, as well, to any demand made by anyone who appears to be in charge'" http://jpfo.org/alert20010914a.htm.
And JPFO was referring to a case in which the passengers already knew the planes were being used to smash into buildings. Of course, if one expects a hijacking to lead to some sort of negotiation, it may make sense to be passive. Now, we'll just have to assume that a hijacked plane will be used as a weapon, and react accordingly.
One of my friends from Israel said there they deal with terrorists by attacking them immediately. For instance, in cases similar to Columbine, students would have been trained either to flee or to fight and rush the terrorists en masse, rather than cower under desks waiting to die.
Our entire country was founded on the premise that we can -- we MUST -- fight back against those who would do us harm.
Where is our country headed today? Will Americans reclaim individual rights and personal responsibility for their own safety, or will they succumb to the victim mentality?
I for one will fight. I will fight those who seek to kill me, and I will fight to reclaim my birthright of freedom.
Let us scoff at this spirit of ennui that has overtaken our nation!
Osama bin Laden is a racist and a bigot. He believes Jews should be driven from their land, he espouses conspiracy theories about Jews, and he states openly he is prepared to use force to further his twisted religious aims. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/interview.html
Some Americans are also violent racists and bigots. As such, they follow in the footsteps Osama bin Laden.
"[F]irebombings, shootings and other acts of violence strike Islamic worshippers... Three days after the terror attacks on New York and Washington, the newswires are filled with reports of assaults and harassment against Arab-Americans, Muslims and others who simply look Middle Eastern -- including non-Muslim Sikhs wearing turbans." http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2001/09/13/backlash/index.html.
A Sikh was arrested boarding an Amtrak train with an ornamental knife. The arrest alone is a stupid, racist injustice. "[T]een-agers chanted, 'Let's kill him,' as the man was led away" http://www.boston.com/dailynews/256/region/Man_arrested_on_Amtrak_claims_:.shtml.
Almost all the people with Muslim or Middle Eastern heritage in this country, as well as people with superficial similarities to these groups, are good, hard-working, peace-loving Americans. Have we forgotten so soon the shameful concentration camps constructed for Japanese Americans during WWII?
Those who commit violence against other Americans are terrorists. And the rest of us will not tolerate such disgusting behavior.
Hawks and Doves
Libertarians have been strongly divided on the issue of foreign policy in the aftermath of 9-11. Libertarians are perhaps more polarized than any other intellectual group in America, with some calling for all-out war and others for complete retraction of "entangling alliances" with other nations.
However, much of the debate is simply a matter of people talking past each other in their anger.
The Objectivists tend to be more hawkish, whereas Rothbardian libertarians tend to call for non-interventionism. From the first camp, David Kelley writes, "We must declare war on the terrorists and use whatever force it takes to render them incapable of posing any further threat" http://www.theobjectivistcenter.org/pubs/dk_assault_on_civilization.asp.
From the second camp, Harry Browne argues, "Our foreign policy has been insane for decades. It was only a matter of time until Americans would have to suffer personally for it. It is a terrible tragedy of life that the innocent so often have to suffer for the sins of the guilty. When will we learn that we can't allow our politicians to bully the world without someone bullying back eventually?" http://www.freecolorado.com/2001/09/browne.html.
However, these are not really contradictory views. Everybody argues forcefully that the terrorist attack was wrong and the (remaining) terrorists should be punished. The question is, how far should we go to wipe out the terrorist threat?
Browne urges, "Find the terrorist conspirators and punish them -- yes. Bomb innocent people -- no" http://www.freecolorado.com/2001/09/browne3.html. This must be the libertarian view. As Browne points out, terrorism does not suddenly become noble simply because it is conducted by the United States.
What we must avoid is a Blood Feud. A blood feud is marked by warring groups (often families) going after each other without any regard for individual culpability. The terrorist act against America in no way justifies killing innocent people in foreign lands. The blood feud is founded on collectivism, and as such it is antithetical to the American ideals of individual liberty and personal responsibility.
We also want to avoid waging war for financial motives. The American economy has been teetering on the brink of recession for months. What better than a war to "solve" this problem? That was a major purpose of the first World War. Big war is big money, for somebody. Of course, on net wars are horribly destructive and they further weaken the economy, despite delusions to the contrary. Is war really necessary for our self-defense, or does propaganda only make it seem that way?
Unfortunately, the hawks seem to believe that punishing the terrorists implies continuing our interventionist policies. Browne has a point: the United States has itself killed innocent civilians around the world and supported tyrannical rulers in its effort to play global cop.
Military non-interventionism is not the same thing as isolationism, as some have suggested. In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson described the "essential principles of our government, and consequently those which ought to shape its administration," including "peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations--entangling alliances with none."
Why isn't the fact that bin Laden was trained by the CIA reported more widely in the news? If he (or someone in a similar position) was involved in the attack, then in a very real sense, the terrorist attack on the United States was partially funded by American taxpayers. In other cases as well, the United States has empowered those who later came to threaten the United States.
As a first step, we really must bring the terrorists to justice. This will show American strength. Then, some months down the road, we can bring our troops home from around the world and stop trying to play global cop. Then, Americans would no longer be hated in so many parts of the world and targeted for terrorist attack.
If we argue that we should continue our military interventionism because of the terrorist attack, then we argue in a circle and enter the Blood Feud mentality. The terrorist attack does not in any way justify prior American foreign policy.
So both the hawks and the doves are partially right. The hawks make a good point that persons actually responsible for the attack must be hunted down. The doves add that American government should focus attention on protecting its citizens and drop its "foreign entanglements."
Jack Wheeler of the Freedom Research Foundation made some interesting comments:
Article II, Section 8, of the Constitution grants Congress the power to "Declare War and Grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal." It goes without saying that there must be a formal Declaration of War against Moslem Terrorism by Congress. Beyond that, Congress should issue documents of legal permission -- "Letters of Marque" -- to competent private organizations authorizing them to capture or terminate specific identified MTs. In other words, there should be an official US Government list of MTs who are Wanted Dead or Alive, bounties in the millions of dollars placed on their heads, and private bounty hunters authorized with Letters of Marque to collect the rewards. There are a number of highly professional "risk-management" companies, such as GlobalOperations in Washington DC, who are capable of fielding teams of ex-Delta Force and ex-Navy SEAL commandos to perform this task.
Try a little thought experiment with me. Why can't we just move Israel someplace else? Say, Texas? It's not like we're talking about a huge land area here. (Why was Israel created precisely where it is? Along these lines, why can't we move Palestine?) Answer this question from the perspective of America and Israel, and I think we'll come a long way toward understanding the various parties.
Why Did the Terrorists Attack?
Bush and other political leaders have said the terrorists attacked America in order to attack freedom. David Kelley basically agrees with that view: "Technology, achievement, trade, law, peace, freedom -- these were the values under attack. They are not American values but human values, the values of civilized life. What makes them denounce America... is our secular culture of freedom, reason, and the pursuit of happiness. They hate our individualism; what they want is an authoritarian society where thought and behavior are controlled by true believers" http://www.theobjectivistcenter.org/pubs/dk_assault_on_civilization.asp.
On the other hand, Harry Browne argues the terrorists attacked mainly because of America's interventionist foreign policy, which makes America very unpopular around the world.
The resolution of this debate is quite important. If Kelley is right, then we are at risk of terrorist attack regardless of our foreign policies. If Browne is right, then we can substantially reduce our risk of terrorism simply by withdrawing from "entangling alliances."
For Kelley, the choice of the World Trade Center as a target proves his point: "The attack on the twin towers cannot be seen as an effort, even a twisted effort, to redress the grievances of people who feel dispossessed. It was an act of sheer destruction, for the sake of destruction.... The buildings were obviously chosen as symbolic targets." Certainly some of bin Laden's comments (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/interview.html) support Kelley's view.
However, there's a much simpler explanation for why the terrorists chose the World Trade Center: those buildings contained a lot of people. Also, because of the buildings' importance in world financial life, their destruction created even more hardship for Americans. (There are also rumors the terrorists played the stock market for financial gain.)
Bin Laden makes it clear he hopes to use terrorism in order to compel Americans into withdrawing from the Middle East. "The Western regimes and the government of the United States of America bear the blame for what might happen. If their people do not wish to be harmed inside their very own countries, they should seek to elect governments that are truly representative of them and that can protect their interests." Bin Laden says he will "fight until the Americans are driven out of all the Islamic countries." And,
The American government is leading the country towards hell.... We say to the Americans as people and to American mothers, if they cherish their lives and if they cherish their sons, they must elect an American patriotic government that caters to their interests not the interests of the Jews. If the present injustice continues with the wave of national consciousness, it will inevitably move the battle to American soil, just as Ramzi Yousef and others have done. This is my message to the American people. I urge them to find a serious administration that acts in their interest and does not attack people and violate their honor and pilfer their wealth.
Kelley writes, "The terrorists claim to speak for the victims of Western imperialism. But any literal imperialism is a thing of the past, long since redressed by the wealth that Europe and America have showered on these countries." However, that doesn't change the fact that America regularly bombs the hell out of the Middle East, sells weapons there, and stations troops. If some other country did that to us, we'd call it imperialism.
On the question of why the terrorists attacked, both Kelley and Browne are right. Absent bin Laden's religious zeal and hatred of Western civilization, he might not have attacked America at all. Absent the United States' military intervention in the Middle East, bin Laden certainly would not have attacked. (I'm assuming bin Laden was involved in the terrorist attacks, even though that's not yet certain.)
The danger lies in looking only at Kelley's point while ignoring Browne's. It's highly unlikely terrorists would target Americans only because they hate Western values. And American politicians are already making their own sort of "Holy War" based mostly on patriotic-sounding propaganda. Bush is basically correct when he says we're in a war of "good versus evil;" however, such pronouncements ought not substitute for a critical look at American foreign policy.
Let's say you saw your neighbor beating the hell out of his wife. Would you be morally justified in intervening? Would you be morally justified in NOT intervening? At the very least, I think you may intervene; I would.
At what level of risk to yourself do you refrain from intervening? At the extreme, intervening could result in almost assured death. Also, one must take into account the likelihood of success. If by intervening you'd be unable to stop your neighbor from beating the hell out of his wife, and you'd face severe risks to yourself, then that would seem to be reason to not intervene.
What if your neighbor threatened to kill your mother, or his wife's mother, if you intervened?
Usually, in the case of a neighbor beating his wife, you would be able to intervene effectively, with little risk to yourself, and with little risk of the neighbor harming a third party. The fact that those three conditions are met goes a long way in justifying intervention.
What about foreign intervention? In the Middle East, it seems pretty clear that intervention is not going to do much to solve the area's age-old battles. The risk of intervention to America is now very obvious. And American politicians must consider the risk of intervention to innocent third parties both in America and in foreign lands.
However, I'm not willing to say that foreign intervention is always wrong.
I certainly think it can be acceptable for private parties to intervene. I can think of four broad categories of support. Americans may donate basic supplies (to, say, Israel), they may help threatened persons find a more secure life in America, they may contribute military supplies, and they may volunteer to fight in Israel's army.
Those last two measures are troublesome, however (as well as illegal so far as I know). If terrorists attack America because of our government's intervention, might they attack America because of private Americans' intervention? I think it's possible but much less likely. If the government is neutral, it will be much harder for terrorists to demonize the country as a whole. If some Americans intervene, and thereby put other Americans at risk of terrorist attack, may the other Americans properly curtail the activities of the interventionists?
It is clear, however, that modern America's foreign policy is a disaster. Our government engages in indiscriminate bombing raids around the world and it spends American tax dollars to train and arm dictators and terrorists. Even though libertarians have yet to work out the details of a foreign policy, they have gotten these basic critiques right.
Especially because of bin Laden's overt racism against Jews, it's easy to sympathize with Israel. Despite its many problems, Isreal reflects basically humane values. At the same time, we should be sympathetic with any person -- Jew, Muslim, Christian, or whatever -- who seeks to live peaceably with others.
Libertarians need to realize the history and theory of interventionism are massively complicated and some honest disagreements are to be expected.
The September 13 Rocky Mountain News reports, "Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar joined government officials around the nation Wednesday who warned gasoline retailers not to raise their prices in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks..." Salazar said those making "false representations about the availability of gasoline supply may face prosecution under the state's consumer laws" (1B).
I heard reports of some gasoline stations raising their price to $4 or more per gallon. However, I did not hear any reports of station owners outright lying to their customers. Sure, if they do so, then that's fraud.
But it doesn't take a genius to figure out we were in an extreme state of emergency for a day or so, and we remain in that state to a lesser extent now. I'm sure other political rulers and terrorists thought hard about using the instability caused by the attack to attempt further acts of aggression. A war with the Middle East is highly likely to interrupt the oil supply.
Raising prices of essential goods during times of crisis can be a very productive response. First, if people are tempted to stock up on supplies, the higher prices will make sure they go further, to more people.
Markets can and should operate according to future risk assessment. When we face the possibility of a future oil shortage, it makes sense to start rationing now, in order to save reserves for the future. Higher prices cause people to ration. And they do it very efficiently: the least necessary travel is curtailed first.
And I didn't see any gas station owner holding a gun to a consumers' head, forcing him or her to buy. I did see one woman on television, who voluntarily pulled up to the station, saw the high prices, and proceeded to pump the gas, complain about being taken advantage of.
If some station owners err in their risk assessment, and price gasoline too high, then consumers are completely free to buy gas down the street where prices are lower. Gas prices rose only in certain areas, and they fell again quickly as both sellers and buyers of gasoline realized the threat was subsiding. If the threat intensifies in the future, prices should be allowed to rise again.
It's no business of government to interfere with the price structure. Yes, sometimes individual actors on the market make mistakes; people are fallible and the future is largely unpredictable. However, the great harm comes from government intervention. Politicians are no better at predicting the future, and they very often sacrifice long-term benefits for short-term political favor.
These links represent a range of opinion about the terrorist attack on America and what to do with it. The inclusion of a link doesn't imply I agree with the substance of the arguments.
Glenn H. Reynolds
David Kopel 2
George L. O'Brien writes (sorry, no link), "The only weapons used were knives.... But they were enough, because the terrorists knew for certain that neither the crew nor the passengers would be armed. Why aren't the crew armed. One pilot with a pistol could have saved thousands of lives. One flight attendant was able to hide in a rest room and use a cell phone, but had no weapon to defend the passengers. On one plane, the passengers apparently tried to physically overcome the terrorists and may have prevented their plane from being a fourth bomb. But they were disarmed. Why isn't there a program for arming the flight crews? Why isn't there a program for training volunteer air marshals? Why? Because the gun control crowd wouldn't like it. They continue to insist that it isn't people who commit crimes, it's the weapons. Want to end crime, then disarm the law abiding public on the hope that this will disarm the criminals also. Yeh, right."
Mir Tamim Ansary
Along these lines, a September 16 AP article reported, "Afghans lined up Saturday outside a barbed wire fence on the border at Torkham, trying to cross into Pakistan. Taliban fighters beat people back with sticks.... Iran on Saturday ordered its security forces to seal off its 560-mile border with Afghanistan, its Interior Minstry said. Pakistan has also agreed to close its borders..."
John Andrews, Colorado State Senator
Siddharth Varadarajan, Times of India
Jack Wheeler of the Freedom Research Foundation wrote a September 15 column titled, "Nuke Mecca" (sorry, no link). "The one and only thing that would shake a Moslem Terrorist's soul to the core, that would cause him to abandon his activities, that would pour ice cold water on the boiling rage against America emerging throughout the Moslem world, is if the President of the United States went on world television and gave the following speech: '...I have today ordered the targeting of our intercontinental nuclear ballistic missiles on the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.... Military officers in the most secure bunkers in the world have their fingers on the nuclear button as we speak. If there is another terrorist attack on America that kills thousands of Americans, that button will be pushed. Once that button is pushed, the missile is on its way, and there is no power on earth nor beyond that can stop the complete and total obliteration of the sacred center of the Moslem religion - forever.'"
Arguments against Wheeler's proposal include the following: a) it would turn the Muslim world against the US, and b) a few religious fanatics would probably continue with their plans (after all, Allah is on their side), thereby forcing the US to follow through with this horrendous act.
Previous links at CoFree: