Throughout history, attacks by implacable foes have prompted somewhat consistent reactions:
Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival. Winston Churchill.
We, too, born to freedom, and believing in freedom, are willing to fight to maintain freedom. We, and all those who believe as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
We’re going to hold them by the nose and we’re going to kick them in the ass. George S. Patton.
In war, there is no substitute for victory. Douglas MacArthur.
Then there’s Barack Obama’s response to 9/11 published a week later in the Hyde Park Herald (as noted in Ryan Lizza’s piece in The New Yorker.)
Even as I hope for some measure of peace and comfort to the bereaved families, I must also hope that we, as a nation, draw some measure of wisdom from this tragedy. Certain immediate lessons are clear, and we must act upon those lessons decisively. We need to step up security at our airports. We must re-examine the effectiveness of our intelligence networks and we must be resolute in identifying the perpetrators of these heinous acts and dismantling their organizations of destruction. We must also engage, however, in the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness. The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity or suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, it may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.
We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad. We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle-Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes and prospects of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and within our own shores.
It’s hard to visualize Obama on a horse at Stirling. But hey, Churchill, Patton MacArthur and Roosevelt couldn’t lower the oceans or heal the planet.