Why We Fight

A War for Civilization
By Mark Steyn

This is what I wrote six years ago, on Tuesday, September 11th 2001, or the following morning's National Post in Canada and that week's Spectator in Britain. This version is fromThe Face Of The Tiger, with second thoughts at the foot of the page:

You can understand why they’re jumping up and down in the streets of Ramallah, jubilant in their victory. They have struck a mighty blow against the Great Satan, mightier than even the producers of far-fetched action thrillers could conceive. They have driven a gaping wound into the heart of his military headquarters. They have ruptured the most famous skyline in the world, the glittering monument to his decadence. They have killed and maimed thousands of his subjects, live on TV. For one day they reduced the hated Bush to a pitiful Presidential vagrant, bounced further and further from his White House to ever more remote military airports, from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska, by a security staff which obviously understands less about the power of symbolism than America’s enemies do.

And, for those on the receiving end, that “money shot”, as they call it in Hollywood - the smoking towers of the World Trade Center collapsing as easily as condemned chimneys at an abandoned sawmill – represents not just an awesome loss of life but a ghastly intelligence failure by the US and a worse moral failure by the west generally.

There was a grim symmetry in the way this act of war interrupted the President at a grade-school photo-op. The Federal Government has no constitutional responsibility for education: it is a state affair, delegated mostly to tiny municipal school boards. But one of Bill Clinton’s forlorn legacies is that the head of state and the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful nation on earth must now fill his day with inconsequential initiatives designed to soothe the piffling discontents of soccer moms and other preferred demographics of the most pampered generation in history: programs to connect elementary schools to the Internet, prescription drug benefits for seniors, government “lock-boxes” for any big-ticket entitlement the focus groups decide they can’t live without, and a thousand and one other woeful trivialities. And so the President was reminded of his most awesome responsibility at a time when he was discharging his most footling.

If you drive around Vermont and Massachusetts and California, you spend a lot of time behind cars with smug bumper stickers calling for more funds to be diverted from defence to education, because this would prove what a caring society we are. Tuesday was a rebuke to those fatuities: the first charge of any government is the defence of its borders – and, without that, it makes no difference how much you spend on prescription drug plans for seniors. From the moment Colin Powell advised against marching on Baghdad and ended the Gulf War, the world’s only superpower has been on a ten-year long weekend off. It loaded up the SUV, went to the mall, enjoyed the good times and deluded itself that in the new world politics could be confined to feelgood initiatives – big government disguised as lots and lots of teensy-weensy bits of small government.

Yesterday’s atrocities were a rude awakening from the indulgences of the last decade, with some awful stories to remind us of our illusions – disabled employees in wheelchairs, whom the Americans with Disabilities Act and the various lobby groups insist can do anything able-bodied people can, found themselves trapped on the 80th floor, unable to get downstairs, unable even to do as others did and hurl themselves from the windows rather than be burned alive.

On Tuesday, the post-Cold War era ended and a new one began.

The first named victim I was aware of was the wife of the Solicitor-General, Barbara Olson, whom I sat next to at dinner a few weeks ago. She was one of the “blonde former prosecutors”, which sounds like a rock band but was the standard shorthand for the good-looking female commentators who turned up on CNN every night during impeachment – she was smart, witty, a fearless scourge of the Clinton Administration. She’d postponed her trip to California by a day so she could wish her husband Ted a happy birthday on Tuesday morning and so found herself on American Airlines flight 11. She had time to call to tell him her plane was being hijacked and that she had been hustled to the back of the cabin with the other passengers and flight crew. By then, the Solicitor-General knew that two planes had deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center. He told Barbara what was happening –that she wasn’t in the hands of some jerk who wants his pals sprung from jail and a jet to Cuba but cooler customers with bigger plans. A few seconds later her flight ripped through one side of the Pentagon.

I’m sure Ted Olson, in the course of the day, saw some of those TV pictures of taxi drivers, merchants and schoolchildren in Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine passing out candy to celebrate the death of his wife and thousands of others. This is not terrorism -  five guys in ski masks plotting in a basement. This is war, waged in the shadows but openly cheered by millions and millions of people and more covertly supported by their governments, including some who are, officially, our “allies”. America lost 2,403 people at Pearl Harbor, 2,260 in the War of 1812, 4,435 in the entire Revolutionary War, and 4,710 on the worst day of the Civil War. It is entirely possible that the final loss on Tuesday will exceed those totals combined. That’s war.

What matters now is how the US reacts. President Bush, echoing a long line of British Prime Ministers responding to IRA attacks, called the perpetrators “a faceless coward”. “Cowardly,” agreed Rudy Giuliani, and Jim Baker. Those Prime Ministers were wrong and so are the President, the former Secretary of State, and the Mayor of New York. The men or women who do such things are certainly faceless but not, I think, cowards. A coward would not agree to hijack a plane. Many others might do it for, oh, $20 million, a change of identity and retirement in the Bahamas: those would be the stakes if life was run by Warner Brothers or Paramount and the terrorist was played by John Travolta or Bruce Willis. But very few of us would agree to hijack a plane for the certainty of instant, violent death. We should acknowledge that at the very least it requires a kind of mad courage, a courage 99% of those of us in the west can never understand and, because of that, should accord a certain respect. Assuming (as Barbara Olson’s phone call seems to confirm) that no United or American Airlines flight crew would plough into a crowded building even with a gun at their heads, the men who took over the controls were sophisticated, educated people, perhaps even trained jet pilots who could be pulling down six-figure salaries in most countries but preferred instead to drive a plane through crowded offices in one all-or-nothing crazed gesture. If these men were cowards, this would be an easier war. Instead, they are not just willing to die for their cause, but anxious to do so.

And what causes are we willing to die for? By “we”, I mean “the west”, though in truth these days that umbrella doesn’t cover a lot – the United Kingdom, most of the time; France, when it suits them; Canada, hardly at all, not in any useful sense. Even America’s sense of purpose has shrivelled away since the Gulf War: Why was there such a comprehensive intelligence failure? Is it because the US has come to rely too much on electronic surveillance – satellites, telephone interceptions - and virtually eliminated human intelligence – the old-fashioned spies who go into deep cover at great risk to themselves? And is the delusion that you can fight terrorism with computers from outer space just another wretched example of the nouveau warfare pioneered by Mr Clinton in Kosovo? Or, to be more accurate, not in Kosovo but far above it and then only after dark on clear nights, dropping Tomahawks at a million bucks a pop on empty buildings. One quasi-governmental network of killers can find four fellows who can fly a jet willing to commit suicide on the same day, but the Clinton Doctrine tells the world that the greatest military power on the face of the earth no longer has the stomach for a single body-bag. The doughboys of the Great War went off singing, “We won’t come back till it’s over/Over There!” But not Mr Clinton’s army: We won’t go over till it’s over/Over There! Such a craven warmonger cannot plausibly call anybody else a “faceless coward”.  In Kosovo, America declared it was prepared to kill, but not to die. Their enemies drew the correct lesson.

There are cowards elsewhere, too. The funniest moment in the early coverage came when some portentous anchor solemnly reported that “the United Nations building has not been hit”. Well, there’s a surprise! Why would the guys who took out the World Trade Center and the Pentagon want to target the UN? The UN is dominated by their apologists, and in some cases the friends of the friends of the fellows who did this (to put it at its most discreet). All last week the plenipotentiaries of the west were in Durban holed up with the smooth, bespoke emissaries of thug states and treating with them as equals, negotiating over how many anti-Zionist insults they could live with and over how grovelling the west’s apology for past sins should be. Yesterday’s sobering coda to Durban let us know that those folks on the other side are really admirably straightforward: they mean what they say, and we should take them at their word. We should also cease dignifying them by pretending that the foreign ministers of, say, Spain and Syria are somehow cut from the same cloth.

There is also a long-term lesson. The US is an historical anomaly: the first non-imperial superpower. Britain, France and the other old powers believed in projecting themselves, both territorially and culturally. As we saw in Durban, they get few thanks for that these days. But the American position – that the pre-eminent nation on earth can collectively leap in its Chevy Suburban and drive to the lake while the world goes its own way – is untenable. The consequence, as we now know, is that the world comes to you. Niall Ferguson, in his book The Cash Nexus, argues that imperial engagement is in fact the humanitarian position: the two most successful military occupations in recent history were the Allies’ transformation of West Germany and Japan into functioning democracies. Ferguson thinks the US, if it had the will, could do that in Sierra Leone. But why stop there? Why let ramshackle economic basket-cases like the Sudan or Afghanistan be used as launch pads to kill New Yorkers?

Instead of an empire, the US belongs to Nato, a defence pact of prosperous western nations in which only one guy picks up the tab, a military alliance for countries that no longer in any recognizable sense have militaries. The US taxpayer’s willingness to pay for the defence of Canada and Europe has contributed to the decay of America’s so-called “allies”, freeing them to disband their armed forces, flirt with dictators and gangster states, and essentially convert themselves to semi-non-aligned.

The British no doubt will respond by pointing out how lax American security is, compared to Heathrow or even Waterloo Station. And they’re right. Granted, every democratic government knows that sometime somewhere some killer will wiggle through the system. But yesterday all the killers got through. Had the conspirators attempted to seize four planes but succeeded in taking only three, we could have consoled ourselves with the knowledge that we had merely a 75% failure rate. But they successfully commandeered every plane they aimed for: a 100% systemic failure.

The killers picked their point of embarkation well: Boston’s Logan Airport is a joke. It is, first of all, not an airport but a building site, and has been for years, a maze of extremely permanent temporary signs, construction sheeting and makeshift walkways, all adding to the chaos. I wasn’t catching a flight a couple of weeks back, just meeting one, but it was delayed and I wanted a coffee and newspaper and discovered I had to go through to the “secured” area to get them. Overwhelmed by unnecessarily increased traffic, the security guards could give only a cursory glance to most bags, and a few sailed through the scanner while their eyes were elsewhere. At Logan, “airport security” is an oxymoron.

So let the British gloat: they’ve got great security systems. But on the other hand what was the point, given that they’ve decided to surrender slowly, piece by piece, to the IRA? When a great power is faced with a terrorist enemy, it has to win – fast and decisively. It has to identify the leaders, remove them silently and ruthlessly, shred their infrastructure and thus deny them the kind of victories that encourage civilian supporters to think their cause is a going concern. In the Fifties, the British did that in Malaya and saved that country from Communism. A decade later, when the IRA re-emerged, they no longer had the stomach for it.

Let us hope that America doesn’t show the same lack of will. This is, as the German government put it, an attack on “the civilized world”, and it’s time to speak up in its defence. Those western nations who spent last week in Durban finessing and nuancing evil should understand now that what is at stake is whether the world’s future will belong to liberal democracy and the rule of law, or to darker forces. And after Tuesday America is entitled to ask its allies not for finely crafted UN resolutions but a more basic question: whose side are you on?

The above column is virtually as it appeared in print, including a few things I was wrong about. The death toll: more than Pearl Harbor and the War of 1812 but less than the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. I was wrong, too, about the “courage” of the suicide bombers: I was not yet sufficiently immersed in the psychosis of Islamism and its perverted death-cultism, in which before committing mass murder one carefully prepares one’s genitals because paradise is a brothel. Many readers objected to the passage about the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I apologize for giving offence – I’d probably just skip the point if I were writing it today. But the images and stories of the disabled were among the most heart-wrenching of the day, including that of the able-bodied man who stayed – and perished - with his wheelchair-bound friend because he could not bear to leave him and let him die alone. I don’t understand why we sue small mom’n’pop businesses because their general store in a remote rural town has no wheelchair ramp, but we cheerfully encourage the disabled to work on the 80th floor of skyscrapers whose first move in an emergency is to shut down the elevators.

Everything else – the ugliness of the Arab street, the uselessness of Nato, the self-loathing of the west, the incompetence of Logan Airport – is just as true today as it was then.

--from The Face Of The Tiger


The Lessons from D-Day

By Victor Davis Hanson
...much has been written to commemorate the bravery and competence of the victorious Anglo-American forces (when they landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944, sixty-three years ago.
All true. But as we ponder this achievement of the Greatest Generation that helped lead to the surrender of Nazi Germany less than a year later, we should remember that the entire campaign was, as Wellington said of Waterloo, a near-run thing.

Our forefathers made several mistakes. They attacked nonexistent artillery emplacements. Planes dropped paratroopers far from intended targets. Critical landing assignments on Omaha Beach were missed.

Once they left shore, it got worse. Indeed, D-Day was soon forgotten in the nightmare of GIs being blown apart in the Normandy hedgerows by well-concealed, entrenched German panzers.
Apparently, no American planners - from Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall down to the staff of Allied Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower - had anticipated either the difficulty of penetrating miles of these dense thickets or the deadliness of new German model tanks and anti-tank weapons.

So we landed in Europe with the weaponry we had - and it was in large part vastly inferior to that of the Wehrmacht.

The most brilliant armored commander in U.S. history, George S. Patton, had been sacked from theater command for slapping an ill soldier the prior year in Sicily. Gens. Omar N. Bradley and Bernard L. Montgomery lacked his genius and audacity - and tens of thousands of Allied soldiers were to pay for Patton's absence at Normandy.

We finally broke out of the mess, after using heavy bombers to blast holes in the German lines. But again, these operations were fraught with foul-ups.

On two successive occasions we bombed our own troops, altogether killing or wounding over 1,000 Americans, including the highest-ranking officer to die in the European Theater, Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair. The nature of his death was hidden from the press - as were many mistakes and casualties both leading up to and after Normandy.

When the disaster in the bocage near the Normandy beaches ended over two months after D-Day, the victorious Americans, British and Canadians had been bled white. Altogether, the winners of the Normandy campaign suffered a quarter-million dead, wounded or missing, including almost 30,000 American fatalities - losing nearly 10 times the number of combat dead in four years of fighting in Iraq.
News from the other fronts during the slaughter in Normandy was no better. Due to blunders by American generals in Italy, the retreating German army had escaped the planned Allied encirclement - and would kill thousands more Allied soldiers in Italy during the next year.

Disturbing reports spread about the simultaneous advance and brutality of Stalin's Red Army on the Eastern Front. Some in the American government began to worry that a war started over freedom for Eastern Europe might end up guaranteeing its enslavement - Stalin's storm troopers merely replacing Hitler's.

While we were ground up in the hedgerows, in the Pacific theater thousands of American amphibious troops were lost during the Marianas campaign. True, we kept winning gruesome amphibious assaults, but we didn't seem to learn much from them.

Instead, far worse carnage lay in store at places named Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. All these bloodbaths near the end of the war were characterized by the sheer heroism of the American soldier - who suffered terribly from intelligence failures and poor leadership of his superiors.

What can we learn, then, on this anniversary of the Normandy campaign?

By any historical measure, our forefathers committed as many strategic and tactical blunders as we have in Afghanistan and Iraq - but lost tens of thousands more Americans as a result of such errors. We worry about emboldening Iran by going into Iraq; the Normandy generation fretted about empowering a colossal Soviet Union.

Of course, World War II was an all-out fight for our very existence in a way many believe the war against terror that began on 9/11 is not. Even more would doubt that al-Qaida jihadists in Iraq pose the same threat to civilization as the Wehrmacht did in Europe.

Nevertheless, the Normandy campaign reminds us that war is by nature horrific, fraught with foolish error - and only won by the side that commits the least number of mistakes. Our grandfathers knew that. So they pressed on as best they could, convinced that they needn't be perfect, only good enough, to win.

The American lesson of D-Day and its aftermath was how to overcome occasional abject stupidity while never giving up in the face of an utterly savage enemy. We need to remember that now more than ever.

-Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author, most recently, of A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com.


Not long after I picked up the free Saudi book, Mahmoud Shalash, an imam from Lexington, Ky., stood at the pulpit of my mosque and offered marital advice to the 100 or so men sitting before him. He repeated the three-step plan, with "beat them" as his final suggestion....

....At the sermon's end, I approached Shalash. "This is America," I protested. "How can you tell men to beat their wives?"

"They should beat them lightly," he explained. "It's in the Koran."

-Asra Q. Nomani, washingtonpost.com, October 22, 2006


The Last Hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: "Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him"; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.

--Sahih Muslim, Book 041, Number 6985


TEHRAN - Iran has begun installing 3,000 centrifuges in an expansion of its uranium enrichment program that brings the Islamic nation significantly closer to large-scale production of nuclear fuel, the president said Saturday. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also claimed that the international community was caving in to Tehran's demands to continue its nuclear program.

"Resistance of the Iranian nation in the past year forced them to retreat tens of steps over the Iran's nuclear issue," the semi-official Fars agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. Fars is considered to be close to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.

Iran has been locked in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program. The U.S. alleges that Tehran is secretly trying to develop atomic weapons, but Iran contends its program is for peaceful purposes including generating electricity

--Ali Akabar Dareini, AP News, December 9, 2006


CHICAGO - A Muslim convert who authorities say talked about waging violent jihad is in custody after federal agents say he tried to make an unusual trade: two stereo speakers for a 9 mm pistol and the grenades he would need to pull off his alleged plot.

After being tipped by an acquaintance of Derrick Shareef, the FBI says it taped the 22-year-old planning to use hand grenades to blow garbage cans into clouds of flying shrapnel in a crowded mall the Friday before Christmas. "This is a warning to those who disbelieve," he allegedly said.

Authorities waited to arrest the man until Wednesday, when they say he tried to make the trade with an undercover agent in a Rockford parking lot. Shareef was charged Friday with crimes that could send him to prison for the rest of his life.

"He fixed on a day of December 22nd on Friday ... because it was the Friday before Christmas and thought that would be the highest concentration of shoppers that he could kill and injure," said Robert Grant, the agent in charge of the Chicago FBI office.

--Mike Robinson with Nathaniel Hernandez, AP News, December 9, 2006


Mark Steyn:...I'm always happy to look for a silver lining, but these days, every silver lining contains several clouds, and that is when you look at their approach to Iran, it is almost beyond parody. It is basically saying that we should mortgage the future of Iraq to our explicit and declared enemies. And the idea of inviting Iran and Syria and other parties onto a support group, in which...I would be in favor, I would be in favor of actual direct negotiations between the United States and Iran, rather than having us all together on a support group that also includes all five permanent members of the Security Council, also includes the European Union, also includes the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I mean, this is basically a recipe for delivering a key, national security of the United States to the same process that has left everybody dead in Darfur. It is a terrible, terrible thing that these ten people have done. I mean, I feel like Oliver Cromwell. Do you remember his famous words to the...

Hugh Hewitt: Yes, be gone, you've done enough damage, right?

Mark Steyn: Yeah, you've sat here too long for any good you might have done. In the name of God, go. That's the way I feel about Lee Hamilton. I'm sick of him chairing commissions. There's 300 million people in this country. Why is it he gets to chair, co-chair the two most important commissions, the 9/11 and the Iraq war one?

Hugh Hewitt: Well, that's because you have to be over the age of 65 to sit on a commission. It's the only job in America for which there is not only no age disqualification, but a certain age qualifier. And I do think that there is something to that, Mark Steyn. As I looked at their press conference...did you watch their press conference?
Mark Steyn: Yes, I did, yeah.

Hugh Hewitt: It was horribly decrepit. And I don't mean in a physical sense, but in an intellectual sense. It was worn out.

--Hugh Hewitt radio interview with Mark Steyn, December 7, 2006


RIYADH - Saudi King Abdullah opened the annual summit of Gulf leaders with a warning that the Arab world was on the brink of exploding because of conflicts in the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Lebanon. "Our Arab region is besieged by a number of dangers, as if it was a powder keg waiting for a spark to explode," he told the rulers of the oil-rich monarchies gathered in Riyadh for a two-day meeting to the backdrop of mounting sectarian violence in neighboring Iraq.

The Palestinians were reeling from "a hostile and ugly occupation" by Israel while the international community watched their "bloody tragedy like a spectator," Abdullah said. But "most dangerous for the (Palestinian) cause is the conflict among brethren," he said in a reference to the differences between Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas movement that have blocked the formation of a unity government.

In Iraq "a brother is still killing his brother," Abdullah said of the tit-for-tat killings between the Sunni Arab former elite and the ruling Shiite majority.

Abdullah also warned that Lebanon, which was rocked by civil war in 1975-1990, risked sliding into renewed civil strife as a result of the current standoff between pro- and anti-Syrian camps.

"In Lebanon, we see dark clouds threatening the unity of the homeland, which risks sliding again into... conflict among the sons of the same country," he said.
The heads of state of Gulf Cooperation Council members Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were present alongside the Saudi monarch, the first time in several years that all six rulers have attended the bloc's year-end summit.

Gulf Arab leaders are also concerned about Shiite Iran's growing role in Iraq and its standoff with the West over Tehran's nuclear program, although GCC Secretary General Abdulrahman al-Attiyah said the GCC states do not feel threatened by the Islamic republic.

"The United States talks openly of the danger of Iranian military activity in the region, but our countries do not feel threatened by Tehran. Iranian officials assure us that their nuclear program is peaceful," Attiyah said.

--Suleiman Nimr and Wissam Keyrouz, jihadwatch.org, December 9, 2006

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