Our Heads in the Sand
Scripps-Howard News Service 5.21.02
Is it a coincidence that the national agony surrounding the difficult
questions about 9/11 breaks to the surface when the clean-up at
Ground Zero has reached its conclusion?
Be that as it may, we now have opened this Pandora's box. May America's
strength of character carry us through. May the families of the
dead bear with us.
I believe we can get past the unspeakable, but not unaccustomed,
baseness of the current Democratic leadership and of Hillary Rodham
We can get past the hyperventilation at the White House. If there
is culpability, it is shared by previous administrations and all
Because, one way or another, all of us have participated in permitting
the dismantling of this country's defenses. It began in the 1960s
under the guise of Vietnam war protest, women's liberation, environmental
awareness, dislike for Richard Nixon. It continued with open hostility
first toward the CIA, then toward the FBI, university faculties
rampaging for unilateral disarmament, and Jimmy Carter's utter inability
to comprehend the facts of life - whether in Korea, Iran, the Panama
Canal Zone or Cuba.
By the time Ronald Reagan came around, even a man of his legendary
courage and commitment found the national will depleted to the extent
where the murder of nearly three hundred U.S. Marines went unanswered.
After a brief interlude known as Desert Storm, cut short on the
advice of our current secretary of state, the use of American power
became a sick joke in the hands of a president who himself has been
a sick joke on the rest of us.
Deep in our hearts, we all must know what would have been done
under "normal" conditions. Upon receiving news relating
to Osama bin Laden's intentions, the already voluminous FBI file
would have been updated. What file? Following the bombings of U.S.
embassies and the USS Cole, every Arab enrolled in a flying school
would have been under surveillance for some time already. Now, quietly,
special agents would have been assigned to monitor their every move.
All airlines would have been advised to watch out for more than
two Middle-Eastern men on any one flight, especially if giving rise
to suspicion on additional grounds.
But we have not operated under "normal" conditions for
years, or the boat carrying the explosives would never have reached
the USS Cole. And, with competent and focused personnel at our airline
counters, the 19 men would never have been allowed to board those
planes on 9/11. Remember? They did not even bother to camouflage
their intentions by buying round-trip tickets, using a credit card,
or checking bags. Did no one notice them or, worse still, the airline
people did, and elected to do nothing?
Similar questions might be raised about our relationship with intelligence
reports. We did not have "specific information?" How specific
does it have to be? The USS Cole was attacked by men who knew they
would die, and who used a vessel as a self-propelled bomb. Those
are not dots to connect. Those are exclamation points.
And yes, there would have been plenty of time to prevent a take-off
of those fateful flights, even after the murderers had boarded.
Time, yes. Will, no.
The attack on history's most powerful navy also went unanswered.
No, conditions in America have not been "normal" for some
time. And that is not the fault of George W. Bush.
Normal for a country, even for the most generous country, is to
be committed to self-preservation. The 1960s introduced a slow but
unstoppable decomposition of that basic human instinct. National
self-preservation requires border controls. National self-preservation
requires competent and reliable people in important jobs, especially
in jobs to do with our security. We can hire people either for "social
justice," or for competence, not both.
And national self-preservation requires that the government provides
for the safety of Americans before it gets all teary-eyed about
a sense of comfort for everyone who comes here, whether legally
or illegally, whether with legitimate intentions or employing flagrant
deception. Our concern with everybody's "comfort" has
acquired proportions bordering on insanity.
These are harsh sentiments. It is indeed much nicer to pull over
the elderly, and babies on the arms of nursing mothers, for random
security checks showing how we refuse to draw conclusions from 30
years of terrorism - invariably from the same source - even after
they dared something not even Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia dared:
they attacked our homeland.
Yes, it is much nicer, or is it?
Could it be a case of burying our heads in the sand?
In any event, we ought not to blame one person or administration
for something we could only alter by common consent. It is difficult,
because Americans genuinely want to be nice.
Hopefully, Americans also wish to stay alive.