The Unknown Enemy
by Joseph Sobran


September 11, 2001

[Breaker quote: Why should anyone want to hurt us?]

It was predictable. For years I've been writing that the U.S. Government has been making more enemies than Americans really need, all over the globe, and that one of these days some of them would have a nasty surprise for us.

In fact it nearly happened a few years ago, when Islamic radicals tried to blow up the World Trade Center. But of course they made a botch of it and got caught.

This time, though, someone pulled off what must have been an extremely cunning conspiracy, a criminal feat for the ages. They managed to execute a secret plan calling for four simultaneous hijackings of airplanes. Those who committed these coordinated deeds -- in spite of all security measures -- also had the determination to die in hitting their targets.

This wasn't "terrorism." This was war. It wasn't a random attempt to scare people with an arbitrary atrocity, like the bombing of a pizza joint; it was a serious attempt to kill as many people and do as much material damage as possible at two strategic targets, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

But, as I write, hours after the attacks, we don't know who is at war with us. We may never know. Who has reason to hate this country? Only a few hundred million people -- Arabs, Muslims, Serbs, and numerous others whose countries have been hit by U.S. bombers.

Imagine hating a country so much that you were willing to cross an ocean and carry out an elaborate revenge against its people, killing yourself in the process. This is something far more than the sort of ideological anti-Americanism that leads student mobs to throw stones at U.S. embassies abroad; that's kid stuff. This is an obsessive, fanatical, soul-consuming hatred.

Foreigners aren't quite real to Americans, and most Americans are unaware of how profoundly their government antagonizes much of the human race. We are easy-going people who generally have no idea how bullying we seem to foreigners. Until now, we have had no experience of what the U.S. Government has so often inflicted on others. Now, at least, we have an inkling of what it feels like.

Government spokesmen have responded with their usual cant of "cowardly attacks" by "terrorists" who "hate democracy and freedom." Rubbish. A fanatic who is ready to die is the opposite of a coward, and nobody can "hate" such abstractions as "democracy and freedom" with that kind of intensity.

It's dangerous to belittle your enemy, especially when his courage and cunning have already proved as formidable as his hatred and cruelty. The first question you should ask about your enemy is why he is your enemy in the first place.

You may be deluding and flattering yourself if you assume he hates you for your virtues. But our "leaders" assure us that our enemies are unnaturally evil people who hate us only because we are so wonderful. And they manage to utter this nonsense with an air of tough-minded realism.

True realism, on the other hand, doesn't mean blaming Americans for bringing these horrifying and truly evil acts on themselves. It does mean trying to imagine alien perspectives from which our government's conduct might appear so intolerable that some people might be driven to take atrocious revenge.

"To understand all is to forgive all," says the French aphorism. Not true. But understanding all can at least teach you how to avoid making enemies, and avoiding making enemies is the best defense -- better than a $300 billion "defense" budget that didn't defend the World Trade Center.

The great director Jean Renoir was once asked why there were no villains in his films. He answered simply: "Everyone has his reasons." Your bitterest enemy may have his reasons for hating your guts. You may not think they are good or sufficient reasons, but you'd better take them into account. If he has any brains, he may find a way to hurt you.

The United States is now a global empire that wants to think of itself as a universal benefactor, and is nonplussed when foreigners don't see it that way. None of the earlier empires of this world, as far as I know, shared this delusion; the Romans, the Mongols, the British, the Russians and Soviets didn't expect to rule and to be loved at the same time. Why do we?

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For some problems, the only "solution" is prevention. by Joseph Sobran, 10/10/01

My, my. Tempers after the 9/11 attack are high, and I'm getting a lot of angry mail and e-mail complaining about my negative and unpatriotic attitude. Some of the more temperate messages say that while my analysis may be correct, as far as it goes, I don't offer useful "solutions" for our present difficulty.

I really wish I knew. My point was that it's a lot easier to avoid stepping into an abyss than to climb out of it. It's a lot easier to avoid making enemies than to defend yourself when they want to kill you.

The real irony of the situation is that Osama bin Laden is essentially demanding that we live by our own original principles. Not that he knows or cares a whit for constitutional government, the counsel of the Founding Fathers, and suchlike infidel malarkey; but his demand for American withdrawal from the Middle East would never have been necessary if we had retained the modest "republican form of government" that was bequeathed to us. Instead the United States has become a global empire.

And of course people like me are "anti- American" for preferring the old constitutional republic we've abandoned. And now, in order to defeat bin Laden, we are moving, and moving rapidly, even further away from a limited, decentralized, constitutional system. By executive order, President Bush has created a second Department of Defense -- called the Office of Homeland Security -- to do what the first Department of Defense was supposed to do, but has failed to do. And in today's parlance, a "patriot" is an American who favors this unconstitutional expansion of government power.

We are told that bin Laden hates freedom and democracy. But he didn't ask us to ignore the Bill of Rights, and specifically the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; our own government, with popular support, has been doing that on its own initiative. It's been doing it for a long time, but in wartime the process accelerates.

So no, I don't have a solution. I knew how to prevent an incurable disease; but, as I say, it may be too late for that. The last thing most Americans want to do now is to restore the original constitutional republic, with severely limited powers, and with neither a huge welfare state at home nor a military colossus abroad.

Does this mean "blaming America first"? I don't blame the U.S. Constitution, which, if adhered to, would have kept us out of the Middle East cauldron that has now scalded us. I don't blame ordinary Americans, who hardly know what their government is and does. I don't even blame our present government for the crimes of bin Laden and his allies; the blood of thousands is on their heads.

But I certainly do blame our arrogant, short- sighted elites for putting this country on a collision course with simple-minded fanatics who don't distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. It was foreseeable and avoidable, on our own founding principles -- principles to which our elites have no more attachment than bin Laden does.

The question now is whether the war on Afghanistan will solve the problem or make it even worse. It may destroy bin Laden and weaken his network, without (if we're lucky) creating a wider war and making us more enemies in the future; but even if it succeeds in its immediate aims, it certainly won't take this country back toward constitutional government. It's already doing just the opposite.


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