Freedom Line

... those who lost their lives on 9-11 of 2001 were the heroes who created in the rest of us in our generation, the anger, the determination, the actions necessary, and the patience to change the world into a globe of liberty...



By Bruce Herschensohn

A few nights ago I came home late and turned on television and there was a movie, a comedy filmed in New York made maybe about a decade ago. The skyline was behind the lead actor and actress who were talking to each other, and there in the far distance in lower Manhattan were the two towers of the World Trade Center standing high above the rest of the city. It was chilling to suddenly see those towers standing alive. Nothing was made of it in the film. Naturally nothing was made of it. It was made before 9-11. But seen in this later time, the film that was meant to be a comedy was like a sudden fist in the stomach. It was impossible to continue to watch it, seeing again the towers as they were and as they should be. Some 2,792 people who were walking in and out of those towers aren’t doing that anymore: people who should still be living and doing all the things we’re still able to do. And all of that was so compounded by the tragedy at the Pentagon and in Somerset County of Pennsylvania in the most devastating combined attack ever on the United States, two years ago today.

To put it in context of the current, it took place two years ago, two towers ago, and two dictatorships ago: Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan is no longer under the rule of the Taliban, some of them dead, some captured, some hiding in caves. Iraq is no longer under the rule of the Baath Party, some dead, some captured, some hiding in the desert. The principals of the former governments who are alive, no longer live in the luxury of marble and ivory. Their new living-quarters are made of rocks in one country and sand in the other. They’re distant from the opulence they built by the torture of others, and they have to hide from those that hunt them, and be suspicious of anyone who claims to be a friend. They’ll die, but if they’re still alive, Usama bin Laden, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and Saddam Hussein are, I believe, living through the coming-attractions of hell. The full-length feature coming soon.

Those who lived under their jurisdiction now have the offer of liberty. The difficulty is that so many don’t know the meaning of the word "liberty," and are too used to the meaning of the word "fear."

My parents always said to never be afraid of anything — that fear is the greatest and most potent weapon in the world, and it is. I don’t want to stray from that, but I have to admit that I am fearful of recent developments here at home within the past few months, fear of an increasing complacency and impatience:

Complacency is reflected in recent polls that tabulate that the chief concern of Americans now is the economy. And then health care. And further down the list is terrorism. Obviously, to those Americans two years is a long time ago, it’s history, and so a growing amount are not seriously concerned about the repetition of a 9-11 despite all the valid warnings.

To some others, there is impatience — impatience to just be done with it. They believe we should have won yesterday, at the latest today — that this is going on too long.

That’s because Americans are a uniquely impatient people. We, characteristically, find yesterday to be a long time ago. We’re a people who rush to the future receiving Christmas catalogues in this month’s mail, we buy October magazines in September, next year’s models of cars are out this year, and we’re the nation of people who buy Sunday newspapers on Saturday. Our inherent American impatience for tomorrow is a great asset in peace-time but a terrible liability in war. We need to be especially patient now because the terrorists are. They’ll wait. John Dryden, the British writer back in the 17th Century wrote, "Beware the fury of the patient man." Is that ever true.

Last month, August the Seventh, the Congress, in impatience to exhibit they’ve come to conclusions, released an 838 page report called the "Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001." Don’t bother reading it.

How 9-11 came to be does not require a lengthy report or reams of research. It calls for nothing more than a normal memory. And I believe the authors didn’t remember or some didn‘t want to remember why our intelligence failed. It failed because of an incident some 28 years ago, on February the 27th of 1975.

That was when Senator Frank Church was heading the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and that day Senator Church announced that the contract agreement, the secrecy oath signed by all CIA employees would now be waived, and CIA agents should testify to his committee about those things that they had sworn to hold secret.

That directive in Senator Church’s committee in 1975 was the end of what had been a magnificent intelligence agency. The best. Some of the finest agents then resigned or took early retirement, while some agents testified as demanded. Revelations followed revelations that followed revelations. It was a pouring, a torrent of information spread around the world.

In one country after another, those revelations were printed in magazines quickly designed for the purpose of printing CIA disclosures. "Covert Action Information Bulletin" exposed over 1000 names of CIA agents. There was "Liberacion" Magazine and "Counterspy" Magazine and a publication called "Anti" in Athens with the names of 64 Americans they said worked for the CIA in Greece. The name of Richard Welch, our Station Chief in Athens was revealed, and The Athens News re-printed his name, address, and phone number. It was effective. On December the 23rd of 1975, when Richard Welch was walking home from a Christmas party, he was assassinated.

Beyond that, it became near-impossible to keep or find local people in host-countries, citizens of foreign countries to help the CIA. They quit in droves. If they stayed, the jeopardy under which they served was too great, not only to themselves but to their families. They faced a risk of disclosures from the very nation to whom they had given so much. Ours.

To this day, 1975 is remembered by those foreigners who pass the word to a younger generation, and so there is still much unwillingness to serve. Because it still goes on we have to have a coalition of intelligence from other nations who do not have a reputation of public exposure. Too bad but we have to rely on others.

The next date that guaranteed disaster-to-come was February the First of 1979 after President Carter abandoned the Shah of Iran, ushering in the Ayatollah Khoumeini, establishing the first Islamic Fundamentalist Revolutionary government in the world. The White House and State Department of the time were in virtual glee to be done with the Shah, as though Khoumemi was a savior of human rights. Our U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations stated "Khoumeini will be somewhat of a saint when we get over the panic." Our U.N. Ambassador was, of course, a poor prophet. Khouemini will be remembered as the one that started and spread the contagious disease of fundamentalist rule with its advocacy of terrorism — a disease that infected other neighboring governments.

The two ingredients were mixed: a dead intelligence agency and a live Islamic Fundamentalist Revolutionary terrorist government. That mixture was stirred and stirred. There’s an old and wise Arab expression: "It is written." And it was written that it was only a matter of time before the steaming cauldron of those two combined ingredients would result in peril for the United States and other people around the world.

And now the world has changed.

Some of you may remember Margaret Whiting’s recording of a song called "Far Away Places." The opening lyric was "Far away places with strange sounding names, far away over the sea. Those far away places with the strange sounding names are calling, calling me." It was written right after World War II was won, and in that comfort, the more distant the locale and the more exotic the sound of a foreign name, the more enticing was the destination. I was moved by it. I believed her.

No more. Now it is not enticing to hear the names of Kandahar or Bali or Nairobi or Dar es Salaam or Casablanca or Islamabad or Baghdad or Jericho or Haifa or Jerusalem or Djakarta or Mindanao or Amman or Bombay and too many other great cities and locations that have known the suddenness of attacks that intentionally targeted non-combatants. That’s the definition of terrorism — the intentional targeting of non-combatants.

Since terrorists entered this century with massive attacks on the United States, our nation and much of the world has been at war, a truly world war, sending our troops to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, the Philippines, Liberia.

But why, some ask, are we sending troops even to places that had no role in 9-11?

The answer is Vision. It’s what we always request in leaders but, when granted, they’re attacked for having the very trait we say we want. Vision requires that we need to do pre-emptive things today because tomorrow will be devastating if those things are left undone. Maybe our generation could withstand one or another foreign advocate of terrorism. Maybe. But the next generation of Americans would then be endangered by our inaction — and we better see to it that they are not endangered.

We all have to know that this is the largest and most difficult war ever fought and we have no time to take detours from our goal of victory. At one time a simple hand-signal meant victory. As kids in my generation, we copied it from Churchill and gave it as a greeting to each other on the playground. "V for Victory." But some two decades later, the 1960s, that Churchillian symbol was reversed by new kids to mean not victory, but peace — as though nothing and no one was worth fighting for. Certainly not Vietnamese or Laotians or Cambodians. Don’t fight. "Make Love, Not War," their placards read. Some of them still believe in peace-above-all rather than liberty-above-all. They seemed to have forgotten that our Founders could have had peace easily. So easily; just don’t be Founders. No war of independence. No U.S.A. and there would have been peace.

President Lincoln could have chosen peace if he wanted to settle for two nations, one free, one slave, and he could have saved over a half million lives by doing that. They would have lived. We would have had peace. On the Monday morning after December the 7th, President Roosevelt could have asked the congress for a declaration of accommodation with what was the Japanese Empire, rather than a declaration of war. President Reagan could have ignored Grenada’s Government, and Nicaragua’s Sandinistas and El Salvador’s Marxists and he could have gone to Berlin and followed the advice of his State Department and National Security Council by not saying "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" And the first President Bush could have said, "Let Saddam Hussein take Kuwait." And our second President Bush could today choose peace above all. He could. Settling for peace while ignoring the threat of losing liberty is easy. But peace without liberty is surrender.

When people ask "What is our exit strategy? The President has to tell us his exit strategy," there should be only one answer: total victory.

Four nights ago, Sunday night, President Bush said that "Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity and a responsibility to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation." Let me inject a personal belief: they won’t do it. The U.N. may well take a broader role, but not what the President requested. He requested the U.N. take a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation. There has been no evidence over the past decades that the U.N. has any interest in encouraging freedom and democracy. Why not? Because some 72 of its member-states are not free and are not democratic. Those governments want no more free states as it risks their own future if their own people were given the right to vote. And even some governments that are free and democratic in the U.N. like the governments of France, Germany, and Belgium, cater to non-democracies as they strive for an expansion of influence, not an expansion of liberty.

There is a great word that’s used about the future of the United States that I never hear about other nations. Never. Only about the United States. The word is "destiny" used from the time Daniel Webster said "One Country, One Constitution, One Destiny," all the way to this past July the 17th when Prime Minister Blair spoke about the future of the United States to a Joint Meeting of our Congress. In the time between Daniel Webster and Prime Minister Blair, FDR said that we have "a rendezvous with destiny" and President Reagan said, "We will achieve our destiny." That destiny as a nation is rarely defined, but we’ve always known what it meant and what it means. Our destiny is bringing the promise of liberty to the peoples of the world. Liberty is hated by terrorists, despised by them. Liberty kills their objectives. They are, in a quirk of irony, making us achieve our destiny sooner than we ever would have without their uncivilized primitive pursuits.

Prime Minister Blair, in his speech, said this: "Why America? …because destiny put you in this place in history, in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do." And he added, "You’re not going to be alone. We’ll be with you in this fight for liberty." What a man! That from a Prime Minister of Great Britain and, no less, from Great Britain’s Labour Party. If he knows our destiny and praises it, every American should know it and welcome it. Some generations haven’t known why they were here. We do. That’s the privilege of our time.

It is so often felt that those Americans who were killed on 9-11 died in vain. I’ve heard that. No, they didn’t die in vain. The terrorist’s acts of 9-11 have forced this nation’s hand. Prior to 9-11 we made small gestures but we weren’t fighting a war against terrorism. Now we are, and it is written that the United States will win the war with victories unmatched, in places unexpected, probably in far away places with strange sounding names.

For sure, time is going to pass, it always does, and generations will pass, they always do, and there is great comfort in knowing that the night is going to come when some guy will come home late, turn on the television and see a movie with long-ago photographed images with those two towers in the background higher than anything else in the city. And he will know, just like all people of his generation will know that those who lost their lives on 9-11 of 2001 were the heroes who created in the rest of us in our generation, the anger, the determination, the actions necessary, and the patience to change the world into a globe of liberty — and that we accomplished the quest that’s been known ever since Daniel Webster said, "One Country, One Constitution, One Destiny."

Bruce Herschensohn teaches public policy at Pepperdine University and is a member of the Center for Individual Freedom's Board of Directors. He delivered this address on September 11, 2003.

[Posted September 18,2003]

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