The toppled towers of the World Trade Center have left behind dark shadows of fear, apprehension and uncertainty in our minds. There are strong cries for war and vengeance. Our Congress has reacted by vesting additional powers in the hands of the President and by giving even more billions of dollars to the military. But traditional military force cannot prevail against this enemy. Military forces cannot wage war against an unseen and perhaps unlocatable enemy.
Our first priority should be to protect the American people from future terrorist attacks. We must ask why our intelligence services failed so badly, even when the warnings were abundant.
Our second priority must be to deeply examine our policies that give rise to such hatred. We must not be afraid to look at the grief and suffering in the world, particularly in the Middle East, that we have contributed to by our policies. President Bush thinks we are hated for our freedom and democracy, but many in other parts of the world believe we are hated for the arrogant manner in which we have used our economic and military might. We may have freedom and democracy at home, but our policies abroad have supported and upheld despotic regimes throughout the world and our CIA has trained and supported extremists like Osama bin Laden.
Our third priority must be to bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice. The terrorists have committed crimes against humanity in taking the lives of citizens of some 80 countries. To apprehend the criminals behind these crimes and bring them to justice will require a global effort and should be done multilaterally with the sanction of the United Nations. The criminals should be tried in a special International Tribunal created for this purpose.
We live in a time when there is a confluence between arrogance, hatred, vulnerability and violence. This was true before September 11th and remains true today. Our vulnerability cannot be substantially lessened. It is endemic in our technological societies. The ability to do violence is also endemic. What can be changed are our policies that lead to hatred and our own violence. It will not be easy for Americans to be introspective and to consider the manner in which our policies and our violence have caused others to suffer and die, but unless we do so we will not be able to stop future terrorism directed against us.
As bad as the terrorist attacks were on September 11th, damage in the future could be much worse. Terrorists in possession of biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear weapons could destroy not only buildings but cities. To prevent this, the US must provide leadership to the international community to assure that these weapons do not fall into the hands of terrorists. The only way to do this will be to put the tightest possible global controls on these weapons and the materials to construct them, while moving rapidly to eliminate them from the arsenals of all nations including our own.
How the US responds to this crisis may well determine whether our new century will be even more violent and destructive than the 20th century, or whether we can find a way to serve justice by upholding the dignity of all persons. The future of our nation and of civilization depend upon our willingness to take a hard look at our role in the world and our willingness to change the variables in the equation of terrorism that we can control.
*David Krieger, an attorney and political scientist, is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.