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Winning the Battle and the War (short version)


The tragic events of September 11, 2001, have aroused a degree of sympathy for the victims and a demand for justice against the perpetrators that have not been seen in America in relation to any other event for many decades.

But in this understandably emotional moment it is necessary for every American to step back and weigh carefully what should be done, the best means to accomplish it, and what the likely consequences will be.

The people who conspired in these attacks are international criminals who must be tracked down and apprehended in the old-fashioned way, through police and investigative work. The government has already put a bounty out for them. But make it a real bounty, say, $500 million for Osama bin Laden and $250 million for each of his suspected co-conspirators. Unleash private mercenaries and bounty hunters to do the job.

But military build-ups, land invasions, and carpet bombings threaten to set off reactions in various countries around the world, especially in the Middle East, which will only risk intensifying the opposition and terrorist potentials against the United States and other countries.

At home, Americans need to take a careful and thoughtful look before we risk losing many of our liberties in the name of “security.” President Bush, in his address before Congress and the nation, announced that he was setting up a permanent Office of Homeland Security, with wide national powers and authority.

Do we really want to see a further reduction in our traditional system of constitutional federalism, with Washington taking over supervision and command of police powers normally considered the responsibility of local and state government? If we lose our liberty at the hands of our government or if it is noticeably restricted, what will we have gained in the long run?

Even if the evil perpetrators of the despicable crimes are caught, put on trial, found guilty, and punished, will that end the problem of terrorism for America? It will not. It is important to understand why. Yes, some of those involved in terrorist rings hate “the American way of life” and wish to destroy what they dislike about it. But that is not the only or even the primary reason behind their conduct. What many millions of others in many countries resent and oppose is the U.S. government’s political and military intervention around the world.

For decades, in the name of freedom, our government has sponsored, financed, and supported anti-democratic, dictatorial regimes. Those governments have sometimes used the aid and training they’ve received to terrorize and kill their own people. The U.S. government has armed and supplied opposition movements that it has labeled “freedom fighters,” who then came to power and oppressed their own people. And they often are the very people the U.S. government later accuses of being terrorists and war criminals.

Our government has used its military might to bomb, blockade, and kill innocent people in the name of opposing “rogue governments.” A former U.S. president ordered the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that was not being used by terrorists to distract attention from his domestic embarrassments, resulting in a shortage of medicines for thousands in Africa. Even our European allies view the U.S. government as an arrogant giant presuming to have the right and duty to make the world over according to its own vision of how the rest of the world should look.

If there is any fundamental lesson we as a nation should learn from this tragic event, it is that our own government is creating many enemies by trying to socially engineer other people’s lives in their own countries. Those people don’t like it or want it. Yes, many of them want our fast food, our designer clothes, our action movies, and our freer way of life. But they do not want the U.S. government to interfere in their domestic, political, and economic affairs. They want to decide those things for themselves, even when they make a terrible mess of it and end up with political and economic systems far from reflecting the American political system.

Americans rightly want justice in the face of this terrible crime. But we need to learn humility and end our government’s political and military interventions around the world.

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    Dr. Richard M. Ebeling is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel. He was formerly professor of Economics at Northwood University, president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).