On this site two years ago, watching with one eye as the World Trade Center burned on my living-room TV screen, I wrote the following thing:
This is not an easy enemy to confront. This will not be a matter of great troop movements, of trenches and fleets and squadrons and massed charges. This will be small teams of inconceivably brave men and women, working in strange places, unknown and unacknowledged.
A lot has happened in this past two years, including — whoops — some great troop movements and massed charges. Most surprising, though, in a way, is what has not happened.
We have not taken control of our borders and entry points. Our diplomats have not given up their addiction to “peace processes” and “initiatives” and “deals” with people who plot our destruction. Our domestic Left has not stopped believing that everything bad in the world is our fault, and that our enemies will become our friends if we only grovel a little more, apologize a little more, retreat a little more. The self-styled “paleocons” have not budged an inch from their insistence that 9/11 was a judgment on us for our persistent, ill-considered meddling in Middle Eastern affairs, and that all will be well if we give up all those messy, un-American foreign entanglements and alliances and pull back to within our own borders. Our allies in Western Europe have not been woken from their opium dreams of security and peace, even as their ancient churches are pulled down to make way for mosques. Our universities are still filled with academics like Edward Said, lecturing us on our wickedness and cruelty.
9/11 raised a number of questioned that were discussed with much heat in the weeks that followed:
Why do they hate us?
Was the shock great enough, or will another be required?
Do we have the national stamina for a long struggle?
Can our armed forces handle the load?
What on earth do we do about Afghanistan? Iraq? The Saudis? The Iranians?
Is democracy possible for Arabs?
Can the Palestine problem be solved?
Some of these questions have been answered, or at least transformed into easier questions. Some are a little closer to being answered now than they were then. (To that last one, for example, we can at least reply with confidence: “Not while Yasser Arafat is alive.”) Most, however, are still open and still being debated.
We have had some modest successes, learned some important facts, and corrected ourselves after some instructive errors. Looking back now I can see that I was a little optimistic that September morning, when I quoted Kipling’s lines on the outbreak of WWI:
Our world has passed away,
In wantonness o’erthrown.
It hasn’t, of course. There is still wantonness aplenty, as witness the MTV music-video awards. “We accept the duties of our generation,” declared President Bush in his address the other night. Well, some of us do. As a nation, I think we are a little more serious than we were two years ago, after that ten-year vacation from responsibility. I worry, though, that we are still not serious enough, that the shock was not great enough, that the duties of our generation are too irksome, too unpleasant, to too many of us, that our stamina will not see us through this.
John F. Kennedy spoke of the Cold War as “a long, twilight struggle.” That particular struggle is over with now. Human evil did not disappear from the earth in 1989, though. It will never disappear, as long as there are human beings. The struggle is an eternal one; when one phase comes to an end, another opens up elsewhere. Do we understand this, in our hedonism and comfort? I worry about that.
Then, when I’ve worked myself into a mood of gloom and despondency, I think of those “small teams of inconceivably brave men and women, working in strange places, unknown and unacknowledged.” They are out there, I know. They are in Iraq, of course, and Afghanistan. Hanging around on the fringes of the journalistic-political world, I hear a lot of hints and rumors. If half of what I hear stuff can be believed, those small teams are in Iran, too, and Pakistan, and Syria, and Saudi Arabia, working away silently, with deadly skill and unimaginable courage, to thwart and unbalance and kill our enemies. With all my heart I wish them well. I pray to God that He will watch over them, and protect them, and bring them home safe at last, and forgive us all for our sin and weakness and folly, and show us the way forward to the light.