“Something strange is going on,” I told my wife as I stood in the den of our Southern California home, looking at the television, around seven o’clock in the morning. I had just seen television images of a plane crashing into a tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Even before learning of the second crash into the other tower, I knew this couldn’t have been an accident. Someone made this happen on purpose. Someone had just deliberately created unspeakable agony and premature death for thousands of innocent people. I had heard about suicide bombers in Israel for years, half a world away—something that happened to someone else—a vague evil, but without a visceral connection to me.
Now there was an intense connection to me. Sure, this was happening across a continent. But New York is my country; these were my fellow citizens. My wife grew up in that city. She has told us stories of visiting the World Trade Center as a child. On September 11, 2001, I felt like an attack had been launched just down the block. That feeling has not diminished at all the passage of time.
As the day wore on, I felt a sinking, sick gloom descend on me as I tried to sort out my reaction, beyond an initial feeling of shock. The night before, even that morning as I woke up, I had no idea at all that my mind would be occupied with such an evil reality. My day trudged on. Some business appointments were canceled. I stayed with the television, trying to discover more about the scope of this tragedy.
But as my gloom drifted and faded, my mood lost its fuzziness, and my dominant emotion poked through, shoving the gloom aside, and sharpening like a dagger. Rage. Seething, eye-squinting, teeth-grinding, rage. How could anyone conceive of such a vicious action? This took planning and ingenuity. What human beings could spend their precious gifts of intelligence and consciousness concocting and executing a sequence of events that would cause such misery to so many? And how dare they perpetrate this on us! I will tell you sincerely, as I write these words now, years later—that seething rage hasn’t diminished much with the passage of time either.
On September 11th 2001, those who like political labels would probably have stamped me with “liberal,” or “left-wing.” I never saw myself that way. Commentators on my novel, The Election, described the Michael Edwards candidate as having “liberal views.” I never saw his views that way either. True, he argued for an end to drug prohibition. But that’s really “libertarian,” not “liberal,” and could be considered radical on the left or right wing. True, he argued for addressing environmental concerns. But he argued vehemently against government programs—instead for using the power of the free market to bring about a “Regenerating Biosphere.” Frankly, that is an orphan view, rejected by both “liberals” and “conservatives!” Liberals want the government involved—they distrust, even despise “big business,” not acknowledging the great wealth and prosperity “big business” has created. Conservatives deny there is an environmental problem, as if by denying it, they can avoid the government programs proposed by liberals. In fairness, the Bush administration has taken cautious baby steps toward the Michael Edwards proposals of “Economic Activism for a Regenerating Biosphere,” with the subsidies for hybrid vehicles.
But I’ve gotten off track. These were pre Nine-Eleven concerns. Back then, I would have been stamped with that “liberal” label, maybe even “progressive.” I voted for John Hagelin with the Natural Law Party. I gave him money; I went to rallies. I was attracted to his ideas. Third party candidates offer better, more creative ideas. That was the theme of The Election. That was my focus back then.
So, with that “liberal” label stamped on me, wouldn’t I be setting aside that rage I mentioned? Wouldn’t I be plagued with second thoughts and “on-the-other-hands”? Didn’t I come from the generation of “peace, love and understanding”? Haven’t I written essays of unabashed idealism: “See All Colors—Be All Colors,” “Leave Your Organized Religions and Find God”, Wake-up Call for a Generation? So wouldn’t I be joining the candidate I voted for in 2000, stating that a truly fair assessment of Nine-Eleven is that we all deserved this catastrophe? That we brought this on by some provocation and ignorance of our own?
Not a chance! I was disgusted with the man I voted for—what a disappointment! I was disgusted with our previous president, Bill Clinton, as he made some weird statement that because of our treatment of the American Indians, and the shame of slavery in our history, we needed to understand why we were attacked and somehow accept some responsibility for it! And I was extremely disgusted with former President Jimmy Carter for counseling weakness in the face of this outrageous assault on our nation! He still doesn’t get it. He thought he had discovered an American “malaise” in the late 1970s. Most of us understood—he was the malaise! Peace through apology and surrender. Foreign policy conducted by concession and appeasement. The failure of those policies was painfully evident to all fair-minded people of that time. That’s why we voted him out overwhelmingly. Now this fool was trying to use his influence to foist malaise back on us again! Thank goodness no one in power listened to him! No, my rage would not and will not be set aside.
I’m not oblivious to the fact that the United States, as a country, has made errors, or that some of our policies anger people around the world, and in our own country. We’re a country that will entertain these complaints, and try to address them. We’ll talk about mistakes openly, publicly, and mostly honestly. We admit slavery was a great evil of our past. We regret the methods used by governments of the past to resolve the clash of cultures between the largely Western European new-arrivals and the Native American tribes who lived here for thousands of years. We look back at past foreign policies: maybe too isolationist the first half the 20th Century, maybe too paternalistic to our Latin American neighbors throughout the 20th century, maybe too polemic during the Cold War, leading to an ill-fated intervention in Viet Nam. We’ll talk about it. We want to assess mistakes and strive for improvement. We’re a nation of idealists. We know the success we’ve enjoyed. We want to share that success. We don’t want to cause harm. We want to spread success and embrace the world as our country embraces so many diverse people within its borders.
But as far as I’m concerned, the dialogue is over when the complainants act to pile up our bodies as a way of getting our attention. No more talk now. There must be consequences for uncivilized, barbaric methods of communicating with us. We have the power to level those consequences. To resist doing so is to invite more bodies to pile up. To answer the murderers piling up our bodies with dialogue ratifies piling up our bodies as a method of presenting grievances to us. This can never be acceptable.
I am a rabid idealist in a land of idealists. My country was founded by idealists as an experiment, succeeding beyond anything they would have imagined. I carry on that tradition. I believe that humanity’s best days are ahead, and that my country has the potential to lead humanity toward those days. I believe that we should strive for utopia, for more and more improvement in the human condition. We still have some distance to travel to achieve such an ideal, but if we do not strive for greatness, we have no chance of achieving it.
But I also understand that the world is not a perfect. When I was young, I liked to believe that peace, love and understanding could resolve any human conflict. Just “rap” with the other person—people are cool—people are good—everything can be worked out. It didn’t take long for me to discover that some people are simply “bad.” They will take your “rap,” your good intentions, and turn them to their own advantage. They don’t care about other human beings—they see other human beings as objects to be used for their own gratification.
My first micro-experience with this was the burglar my mother surprised one day at our home. She drove him out—no real harm occurred. But how would we “rap” with this person? “Peace, love and understanding?” Sure. I understood he wanted take something that didn’t belong to him. And if we hugged him and said “you poor, deprived soul,” he would have just laughed and tried to steal from us again at the first opportunity, seeing us as an easy mark.
My first macro-experience with this reality was learning about the Manson family. How could anyone have used peace, love and understanding with Charles Manson? He had to be defeated, punished, and rendered harmless. As an idealist, I can’t save the unredeemable. In fact, they’ll interfere with an idyllic destiny for humanity. So we realize there are limitations for the ideal of “peace, love and understanding.” And those limitations are imposed by those who respond to approaches of “peace, love and understanding” with vicious destructiveness. The “E” word. “Evil.” Difficult to define in a nutshell, but we know it when we see it. The Manson family murders. Hitler and the Holocaust. Yes, slavery in United States, stamped out with our own blood during a bitter Civil War. Stalin and the slaughter of millions in the name of “Communism.” And flying planes into buildings as a method of dialog. “Evil.” Unacceptable. And such “evil” cannot stand without confrontation.
I’m an idealist, and an optimist as well. I believe that during my lifetime, the human condition has improved. Humanity is far from achieving the best of possible worlds. But we have improved. Last century, we survived two terrible world wars, a devastating economic depression, as well as ending most of the totalitarian regimes masquerading as “Communism.” But some recent events demonstrated to me that I was too optimistic. We have farther to go than I realized—we will not solve every problem and achieve that ideal world during my lifetime. The first events were in my country, during the 1990s. They involved riots in Los Angeles after Los Angeles police officers accused of beating African-American Rodney King were acquitted, and the acquittal of O.J. Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife and another innocent party, followed by the near-celebration of many African-Americans despite Simpson’s obvious guilt. This told me that racial tensions between blacks and whites, which I thought had largely evaporated, are still very much alive and festering. My experience has been with middle-class blacks. Suddenly I became aware that there is still a large contingent of African-Americans who believe their race limits them and live every day with that rage. My heart goes out to them. We have more work to do, offering opportunity and encouragement, assuring them that mainstream America welcomes people of all colors to make their claim for prosperity and the “American dream.” This will take time, more time that I imagined.
The second assault on my idealism? Nine-Eleven. There are people who hate this country and our fellow citizens so much that they’re willing to sacrifice their own lives just to pile up our bodies. This realization was a serious assault on my idealism and optimism.
But I still remain an optimist and an idealist. I mentioned earlier that this country has made mistakes. But there is simply no doubt, by any objective standards of historical review, that the United States has had a far more positive influence in the world than negative influence. We have approached our fellow nations of the world differently than any other powerful nation in history. I’m intensely proud to call this my country, and I resent, with the force of that seething rage I mentioned earlier, that we deserve having our bodies piled up by those with grievances against us. The United States is the first country in a dominant position on the world stage that has not sought to rule the world. Instead, we have sought to create a global family of free, prosperous nations. After World War II, we helped our two most powerful defeated enemies become wealthy, successful and independent, even from us.
Our Western European allies like to call us “unsophisticated.” But when they dominated the world stage, they turned the globe into a patchwork quilt of colonies. After World War I, these more “sophisticated” Western Europeans humiliated a defeated Germany, planting the seeds for a worse world war just twenty years later. I’ll take our “sophistication” over theirs all day long.
This country is planting the seeds for perpetual, sustainable world peace. That’s idealism. We can’t let planes into buildings deflect those noble aspirations for humanity. We can’t have a discussion with people whose stated goal is to pile up our bodies. The must be defeated and rendered powerless.
World War II offers the instructive historical analogy. The lessons are obvious. Two proud cultures, universally admired, with ancient roots, were hijacked by racist militarists committed to world domination at any cost. Their methods were ruthless; their atrocities rivaled the worst in human history. The free nations of the world, eventually led by the United States (and also including the so-called “Soviet Union” that was really a Russian empire) defeated those enemies, and removed the evil rulers who had hijacked those countries. The United States then helped those two countries rejoin the civilized world. Today, we have an entire religion hijacked by extremists, brainwashing and bullying many of their co-religionists into thinking a religious war against “the West” is necessary. Some of those Muslims nations have been hijacked by ruthless secular leaders, willing to join forces with religious extremists to advance their own lust for power. There is no compromise with the hijackers of the Muslim nations and religion, just like there was no compromise with Hitler or the Tojo government in Japan. They must be defeated and destroyed. No result short of total victory will allow us to advance our idealistic goal of a peaceful, diverse world, sharing prosperity in an atmosphere of harmony and mutual respect.
Also, as in World War II, when dealing with the sort of ruthless evil leaders who will pile up the bodies of innocents to make a point, then giggle about it later, deriding their own suicide squads, communications cannot be based on “peace, love and understanding.” Our “sophisticated” Western European allies tried this with Hitler. “It’s okay, Hitler, keep Austria. Keep the Sudentenland. Keep all of Czechoslovakia. We understand your grievances. We’re probably to blame for your hostility. If we’re reasonable, we’re sure you’ll be.” But evil, ruthless leaders do not see this sort of negotiation as “reasonable.” They see it as an opportunity for positioning. They see it as an opponent’s weakness and surrender. Victory and domination is their goal, not fairness. Those “sophisticated” Europeans learned this too late, and hundreds of millions died as the world learned there is no substitute for victory against such leaders.
Now those “sophisticated” Europeans counsel the same sort of appeasement in the current world. “Peace, love and understanding” should be applied. Okay, sure, for the people who have been hijacked by those leaders. But for the leaders themselves? For their military forces and governments? Victory over them—their destruction as forces in the world—there can be no other acceptable outcome. And that outcome will ultimately benefit the huge majority of the population taken under the control of the evil schemes foisted on them by conscienceless leaders who have ruthlessly seized power.
So what has my country done? First, we went right after the leader and organization that piled up so many of our bodies on September 11, 2001. The Al Qaeda leader hides in the shadows, though we’d prefer to capture him. For three and a half years, there have been no new attacks on our country. (Knock on wood!) The country hijacked by Al Qaeda and Muslim extremists has been liberated, has held free elections, and is now a friend of the United States. Millions of women are free from a compulsory inferior status and from brutal executions in stadiums for the least infractions. Where the Russians failed as an imperial power seeking domination, the United States has succeeded, simply by bringing a sincere goal of seeking friendship with a free country.
We then turned to a festering threat to civilization, a dictator who modeled his style after the two men who killed the most people during the 20th century. This dictator hijacked one of the oldest civilizations in the world. He turned his country into an agony of death and terror, of torture chambers and sadistic spectacles videotaped for his own entertainment, compounding these outrages by using the country’s resources to litter the country with opulent palaces, monuments to megalomania, towering over a starving, fear-drenched population. The man thumbed his nose at the international community, scoffing at agreements he made after being expelled from Kuwait. Was he in active collaboration with Al Qaeda terrorists? Was he gathering “weapons of mass destruction” to unleash on us? We may not have these issues clarified for some time. (In my opinion, we still don't know all there is to know about this situation. It doesn't make sense that Sadaam Hussein would throw UN inspectors out of his country, and then voluntarily disarm!) But can anyone doubt that the answers to both of those questions would have been an emphatic yes eventually, if not at that time? During the Nine-Eleven Commission hearings, criticism was implied for our leaders' failure to anticipate the attacks on our soil by the Al Qaeda terrorist network. That criticism would have resembled the tone of a lynch mob if we had waited for Al Qaeda to produce a devastating attack in collaboration with a dictator who has expressed undisguised, uncompromising hostility toward us.
Sadaam Hussein made international agreements. So did Hitler. Sadaam Hussein broke those international agreements because he thought he could get away with it. So did Hitler. “Sophisticated” Europeans and those who search through minutiae for “shades-of-gray” counsel appeasement. Not this time. Sometimes the truth is simple, and it does us a disservice to obscure it with the superfluous. I’ll take the “sophistication” of learning a lesson over repeating a mistake any time. My country took him out. It hasn’t been easy. The process is not over. But it was the right thing to do, for pragmatists and idealists. I’m proud to be a citizen of a country that had the courage and the clear vision to reject the self-proclaimed “sophisticates” with their “shades-of-gray.”
“War is not the answer,” states a popular bumper sticker. This sounds so “peace, love and understanding.” Shouldn’t an unabashed idealist like me embrace the sentiment in this slogan? No. Because the truth of the statement depends on what question we’re asking. War needs to be the last answer. It is not the answer for dealing with people of good will and mutual respect. But sometimes, it is the only answer! I want to ask the people who display that bumper sticker—what was the answer to Hitler?
History doesn’t allow us to play out two time-lines. Novelists can take a shot at it—maybe I will someday. But to me, as a self-proclaimed, unabashed idealist, the choice between the two time-lines is obvious. President George W. Bush took us on the time-line strewn with less death and destruction. Failing to take a stand against the hijackers of Islam, and of some of the Muslim countries, would have allowed them to get stronger, just as Hitler and the Japanese Empire got stronger when their assaults on world peace and international order went unopposed. History teaches us that ruthless haters of freedom eventually must be defeated. The stronger they become, the more resources must be used, and innocent lives must be sacrificed, to achieve victory. By fighting the battle now, we have preserved millions of lives. (And most of those preserved lives in this time-line are probably not American lives.) This includes American lives, and Muslim lives.)
My sincere love and admiration goes out to all who fight this battle. My tears cry for those who have lost their lives—our soldiers, and the innocents in those hijacked countries. We can never confirm this assertion—we can’t test the decision to act, or not to act, in both time-lines. But I am as certain as I can be, as a student of history, that those precious lives lost now, have prevented hundreds of millions of lost lives in the future. So those lost lives become a noble sacrifice for the many who will survive and thrive in this time-line. With that belief, as an idealist, how can I support any decision other than the one taken?
So with my country at war, with the new knowledge that there are people out there who want to pile up American bodies, is idealism crippled? Not for me. From adversity arises opportunity. World War II is again the model—even the Cold War aids our look into the future. After World War II, we feared we could never erase Nazi influence from Germany, or the ethnic prejudices and ingrained militarism from Japan. But once we liberated those hijacked countries, we discovered that people thrive under freedom. It took time. The conditioning by the ruthless leaders of those hijacked populations was extensive. But the combination of our sincerely extended helping hand, and the bright light of truth, brought about the transformation of those bitter enemies into friends. Differences in culture didn’t matter. The same pattern is developing in post-Communist eastern Europe. Free nations crave associations with other free nations. The proof is in the recent experience.
With many hijacked Muslims now liberated, we are using this same combination. We can show by word and deed that we have no quarrel with Islam. We will remind the world that we sought to rescue Muslims from Christians in Bosnia and Kosovo less than a decade ago when Muslims were being victimized. We’ll encourage our Muslim friends to look with pride at their history, pointing out that Islam was a force for the preservation of Western science and philosophy, that the Caliphate of Baghdad proudly encouraged scientists and philosophers, establishing centers of learning and study, and state-of-the-art observatories, during the Middle Ages. Islam is not a backward, knowledge-rejecting and technology-hating religion the hijackers have attempted to turn it into. We’ll encourage Muslims to embrace the words of their prophet, that innocents should not be killed in battle, and call upon them to reject the opposite approach of the hijackers of Islam. With this approach, we will create a better world out of the ashes of those fallen towers.
So Nine-Eleven gave idealism a jolt. But idealism has come back strong. “See All Colors – Be All Colors” is more relevant than ever. “Leave Your Organized Religions Behind – And Find God” may be over-written for those who follow organized religions, but very much relevant for the hijackers of religions, and those who seek to exploit religions to condone slaughter, oppression and conquest.
That label stamped on me probably now reads “conservative” or “Republican.” I haven’t really changed. I remain an idealist. I support my fellow idealists. Right now, my President, George W. Bush, is a fellow idealist. By the way, he doesn’t speak well. He’s not quick on his feet. If he played a game of Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy with Bill Clinton, or even Al Gore or John Kerry, he would probably lose. I don’t need my Presidents to the smartest people in the world. I need them to make the right decisions. Bill Clinton’s weird statements after Nine-Eleven, Gore’s ranting and raving demagoguery, and John Kerry’s indecision coupled mostly with sympathy and support for those “sophisticated” Europeans I referred to earlier, tell me these men, as smart as they are, maybe smarter than George W. Bush, would have made the wrong decisions. I am thankful for George W. Bush, sloppy syntax, mispronounced words and all.
I remain a die-hard idealist. My current project, a three-novel trilogy of Richard and Saladin, The Sultan and the Khan, and The Ghosts of Baghdad, will tell stories from history designed to entertain while illuminating readers about some of the fascinating events of the past, and how that past can inspire progress toward a peaceful future as humanity achieves spiritual enlightenment and material affluence and success barely imagined today. This is a highly personal essay. It won’t be published on an op-ed page. It meanders on tangents and throws in little personal stories at my whim. But it stands as my personal perspective on one of the most important world events of my lifetime. The final verdict: Idealism and Optimism remain alive and well.
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