Myths and realities in our response to terror

When a nation mobilizes for war, there is only a small fraction that actually wears a uniform or participates in the fighting. While some percentage may appear to be high, depending upon the severity of the war, the actual numbers of participants are much smaller than the available population. The rare occasions of larger percentages (France under Napoleon, and the European powers in both world wars) demonstrate exceptions to the rule under severe crises.

While there may have been legitimate anti-war sentiment among the population during the respective wars, the fact remains that a minority number of available soldiers actually fought in the conflicts for the tyrannical armies. The remainder of the populace either participated in some civilian capacity, or simply acquiesced to the government's war policy.

When the English and Russian populations responded to French or German aggression, the argument was lacking that stated, "Don't be quick to resort to arms; Napoleon's soldiers do not characterize the greater Franco Empire." Nor is there any record of policy supporting restraint of action against the Kaiser or Hitler simply because their militarism was not representative of the overall peaceful German society.

Yet, that is the usual exhortation when attacks occur in the U.S. or when they are foiled. Before any evidence is collected or statements are made, there is a rush from officials and media representatives to deny the possibility of an organized attack. They insist that any
violent incident of this nature is a completely isolated event. Likewise, there is a quick denial of any connection to a foreign entity or to an external philosophical influence. They are just as likely to amplify the actions of a single individual and to investigate his supposed mental deficiencies.

The follow-on argument inexorably leads to focusing on moderate elements within the opponent's camp. There is a desperate search for their voice of moderation; however, the silence is deafening. Although we idly stand by waiting for a "moderate" demonstration or speech, it soon becomes apparent that the moderates are irrelevant. They add nothing to
the strategic argument. We are then forced to face the inevitable question: Do the moderates within that group even exist, or are they part of the silent majority that reluctantly accepts the prevailing ideology, and submits to the corresponding actions of the violent minority?

In the past, when the legitimate peaceful countries were forced to respond to aggression, they did not hold back on the battlefield while making excuses for the enemy. The reaction to the threat consisted of two components: defeating the enemy's military on the battlefield, and attacking the proponent responsible for directing the adversary's belligerence (in the form of the tyrant, political party, and/or the prevalent ideology). A logical criticism to an ideology was a key contributing factor to winning the Cold War.

The American Nation has come to dominate the projection of power and the execution of war. This domination was most successful when it was not accompanied by self-criticism or a careless disregard of the opponent's intentions. Strategic success, absent persistent internal critique, was evident during the two world wars and the Gulf War. The spirit of American success has revolved around its capacity to destroy the opposition's capability of conducting prolonged military operations, while simultaneously upholding the belief that its value system was exceptional and preferred to that of the enemy.

While the American military has once again proven its worth tactically and operationally in the Middle-East and Central Asia, ultimate strategic victory is not guaranteed. The ambiguity of success may rest right here at home. The failure to recognize the enemy's war plan and operational design is a contributing factor, as well as refusing to challenge the tenets guiding his purpose for war. If we do not recognize those two dynamics, and if we purposely refuse to elevate our founding principles, then the types of attacks at Fort Hood and at the Arkansas Recruiting Station will become routine.

Lieutenant Colonel John M. Kanaley
Fort Bliss, TX