The war is not over

Surprise.  My first and strongest reaction was surprise when I saw on TV last night that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan: after all this time—almost ten years since the September 11 attacks—I was surprised that the leader of Al Qaeda had been caught and disposed of.  Pleased at the news, yes, but a little startled: oh yeah, that’s still going on.

It’s not that I wasn’t confident that the American military and intelligence machine could do it, but like many (if not most) Americans I don’t give much regular or serious thought to the pursuit of terrorists, and that’s a shame because there are still thousands of American soldiers, sailors and Marines deployed on the other side of the world doing exactly that every single day and night.  Finding Bin Laden and defeating Al Qaeda was the reason we went to war in Afghanistan in the first place, remember?  But apart from changes in airport security, most Americans aren’t still impacted in their daily lives.  Plenty of people are—those troops, military families, survivors of victims of terrorism—but most of us are not.

Although we could be any time now: the experts on these terrorists expect the killing of Bin Laden to spark new attacks on the U.S. or on American targets around the world out of vengeance, and our government has raised the alert level at military bases and issued travel advisories for Americans around the world.  That makes sense: crazy religious zealots aren’t likely to just shrug off the death of their inspirational leader at the hands of the Great Satan and go on about their misdirected lives.  We shall see what happens.

Meanwhile, I’m not feeling the euphoria and glee I’m seeing in the video of the crowds in Lower Manhattan and outside the White House and elsewhere.  Punishing Bin Laden—with extreme prejudice—can’t help but be a good thing, but it’s not a happy ending, or even an ending at all, like VE Day or the surrender at Appomattox.  President Obama was right when he said “Today we are reminded that as a nation there’s nothing we can’t do when we put our shoulders to the wheel, when we remember the sense of unity that defines us as Americans.”  But so was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Even as we mark this milestone, we should not forget that the battle to stop Al Qaeda and its syndicate of terror will not end with the death of Bin Laden.”

Or maybe ever.  And as people with short attention spans, who usually demonstrate a severe lack of patience for all but the quick and simple answer to every question, we’d do ourselves a favor by being realistic about what this news means for our future.  We won a battle, but the war goes on.

7 thoughts on “The war is not over

  1. Your comments were succinct and realistic. After reading them, it suddenly occurred to me that ever since 9/11, I have been waiting subconsciously for the day when things return to “normal” as we knew it. We’re never going to see that “normal” again because indoctrination of hatred will never cease to exist (short of an act of God). That saddens me. For some of us in this country, especially those of us from New York, the quality of our life has been affected — who we were changed on that day when for the first time in my lifetime, we were attacked in a catastrophic way on our own soil very close to our homes. It is a picture I can never get out of my mind and a day about which I am unable to speak without crying. I am glad that bin Laden ceases to be in control but ever mindful of his competent successor, the world’s cells and their fanaticism targeting our country. This depicts what some of us know as our NEW American life and for children born after 9/11, their ONLY view of American life.

  2. Mary:

    You present the perspective of someone who experienced the horror of 9/11 first-hand. I appreciate that I cannot feel or understand your unique perspective, but I will offer some hope.

    We can and will return to normalcy. That does not mean that we will forget what happened, why it happened, or who is responsible. Al Qaida attacked this country for no good reason.

    My father was a teenager when he participated in the resistance to the Italo-German invasion of Corsica. They never surrendered or succumbed to the invaders. As a result, he witnessed unspeakable horrors perpetrated by arbitrary and capricious decisions to kill, maim and torture just because the Italian or German soldiers could do so. He lost many loved ones. Yet, he survived the war, was certified a navigator by the French and Amercian Air Forces, married my mother (of German-Wendish heritage) from Warda, Texas, fought in Indochina, and then reared a middle class family in Houston, Texas. My father created a normalcy which always reflected his strong values and opinions incubated in his life experience. I know I will never truly know the emotions he harbored due to his life experience. I consider my father exceptional, but it is the exceptionalism of his birthland and his adopted country. It is the traits of doing and making ourselves the best we can that gives hope to all of us.


    Pace e salute.


  3. Sadly, I believe this war will span generations. Muslim boys in madrassas are only educated in the Koran. No reading, writing, or ‘rithmetic other than what is between the covers of this book. Muslim girls aren’t educated at all. How can such a society change?

    This war is based on ideologies and fed by socio-economic and political factors. We can take comfort that we are in the right but it’s likely the other side feels the same. But a clear distinction can by made in the implementation. The main weapons of the West are its advanced fighting systems while the Muslim world relies on massed youths sustained by the very high birth rates. In other words, the war boils down to Technology vs. Fecundity. According to Malthus the latter grows exponentially but I think, I hope, that Western Technology is growing even faster.

    But the prospect of using these weapons on a horde of, say, Iranian children swarming towards an American armored column is too horrible to contemplate. Rather we must demonstrate the unwinnableness of such a conflict and engender internal revolt. Iranian spring? Regime change? It sounds familiar, doesn’t it. My guess is that these relative growth curves favor our position (not France or Germany which will soon have very large, voting, Arab populations). Perhaps ten years. Twenty years. Until then this war will continue.

    1. I think the good news, from our point of view, is that all of the Muslim world is not the boys in the madrassas, etc.: the “enemy” is a relatively small percentage of Muslims worldwide who subscribe to a warped interpretation of the Koran. Armed, fanatical/irrational, yes; but relatively small. That doesn’t make their victims any less dead, I grant you, but it does offer hope that we don’t have to defeat an endless line of martyrs with explosive underpants. Frankly I’m more worried about the ongoing fight against the Religious Right in this country.

      1. I’m no fan of the religious right, like those Kansas nutballs picketing military funerals. But I think you’re letting the Muslims off easy. It’s true that the ones willing to strap on explosives are a tiny minority, but then where’s the voice of the majority? Where is the outrage over how this tiny minority is distorting the world’s perception of the Arab/Muslim world?

        I’m afraid that the silent majority are silent supporters, or at least partially sympatico. Otherwise you would see a far greater backlash against these actions. Mothers would be telling their sons not to grow up to be cowboys, er, human bombs.

      2. I’m not as ready as you are to assume that many or most of the Muslims who are not expressing outrage at the work of the terrorists are secretly supportive of their ends and/or their means: we can’t know the true beliefs of those who are not expressing their beliefs. And as it turns out, even though neither you nor I had explicitly expressed our distaste for the goals and the tactics of the Religious Right, until now, that didn’t mean we were covert supporters. (Look, Bobo, another thing we agree on!)

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