There are basically two ways to honor American victims of war and terrorist violence: pound our patriotic chests and talk tough about destroying “the enemy” or work through peaceable means to end war and terrorism. I believe the latter choice is the most honorable and ultimately effective way to honor the memory of the Americans killed fourteen years ago in Manhattan.
When President George W. Bush launched, with the nearly unanimous support of Congress (only Rep. Barbara Lee, D-CA voted against the AUMF), the “war on terror” in October of 2001, the motive was anger and revenge. It led to the immediate bombing and invasion of Afghanistan and later to the invasion of Iraq and onwards to the current use of drone “targeted killings.” Yes, we punish our enemies but in so doing kill and injure many innocent people while leaving both Afghanistan and Iraq (and Libya) in states of chaos that continue to foster anti-U.S. feeling and terrorist recruitment. We also, through drastic domestic security measures, punish ourselves.
Had we not responded to what amounted to a criminal hijacking of airliners (with suicidal and homicidal intent) with a full-fledged military invasion and abuse of prisoners of war, had we restrained our immediate impulses for revenge, we would have likely secured more international goodwill and provoked far less of a backlash while more effectively promoting democracy and peace.
Fourteen years after 9/11, after two wars and ongoing war in the Middle East, perhaps we are beginning to understand that war is counter-productive in the fight against terror and for international relations. The recent international agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear ambitions, approved only by most Democrats in Congress, is a hopeful sign, despite our nation’s long political reliance on military force. It is a small victory for peace and a blow against political violence of all kinds.
P.S.— For a column addressing the same subject, see Emily Mills’s latest at the Journal Sentinel.