Originally published on September 20th, 2001–To the students of Ashland University: university teachers have wide latitude in their choice and presentation of subjects. In America university courses have been presented about Black Hair, Oprah Winfrey, and the Social Life of Snails. I see no reason why I should not offer a statement in this class, followed by discussion, about the momentous events of yesterday.
On September 11, 2001 America was attacked. What happened in New York was not a criminal act. It was an act of war. It is wrong to call it criminal activity, or to treat it as a criminal matter. It is wrong to consider it as a matter in which the people responsible must be arrested, brought before a judge and tried. This is war. The attackers must be destroyed.
Why is it not a criminal act? First, the scale of the slaughter is far beyond criminal activity. The number of people killed may rise to 5 or 10 times the number killed at Pearl Harbor. Second, it had no “criminal” motive: i.e., robbery, or passion against an individual. But most important, the resources required to carry out the attack, especially training given the pilots, were on the scale of that available only to governments.
The moral, political, economic, and religious support necessary for these attacks have been provided over the past 25 years by specific governments in the Middle East. Those governments wish to destroy the Great Satan: America, freedom, achievement, trade, values, reason. This is a war against America, her core values, and the prosperity that has followed from our pursuit of those values. The enemy is first and foremost any government who supports the active opponents of those values. This is the material fact that we must face.
The particular people involved in the particular acts of war of Sep 11 are not the reason for retaliation. The purpose is not to “punish” those who have started this war. Punishment is not a concept that applies here. We did not punish the pilots who attacked Pearl Harbor-we destroyed the government of Japan, and imposed a constitutional government that has benefited everyone (most of all the Japanese) ever since.
We must not fall into agnosticism over this issue. The governments and leaders who have supported terrorism for years are well-known. The precision with which they are known is more than sufficient to place blame. We know who they are, and no further research is needed. Every such government must be removed from power, now, as a matter of our own personal, and immediate, physical safety. This should be the purpose, and the only purpose, of our response to this attack.
So the first question is, how do we seize the initiative in this war, to make us, and freedom, safe again? Note that the question is not how to bring “disenfranchised peoples” back into the world community, and neither is it to correct the alleged cultural deformities that are supposed to have lead terrorists to kill us. The issue is not how to resolve the Middle East problem, or to find a homeland for one group or another. We hold no such responsibilities to our enemies or their children.
I repeat. The first question is how to protect ourselves, and, coincidently, others who value freedom, from such attacks. Our self-protection must be our first, and only, motive. It is an end in itself.
I will be specific here. What is needed is an all-out immediate attack, nuclear if necessary, on targets chosen by the US. 24 hours notice should then be given to the governments of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Libya, that they are to resign their political positions now or face more of the same tomorrow. Arafat must be told that the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Islamic Jihad are to be turned over to us now, or he faces annihilation, in the form decided on by us.
If destruction follows it is their fault, not ours. They started it. They evidently wish it. If babies are killed it is because they hide behind them. We didn’t start this war-they did, by arming, training, protecting and sanctioning the attackers who killed innocent Americans.
Further, the US should not ask permission of anyone about this. In my opinion it is actually vital that such permissions not be asked. Our actions must be unilateral. EVERY government, friend and foe, must know that an attack on America will be followed by retaliation: inevitably, always, everywhere, regardless of what they think.
Our retaliation must take on the status of natural justice, as a law of nature, inescapable across time and space. Throw a stone into the air and it falls. A flash of lightning is followed by thunder. Touch a hot stove and you get burned. Touch an American, and fire falls out of the sky onto you and anyone who breathes the same air as you. It must become political suicide for any government to offer aid to an open enemy of the US. It is time for them to become afraid.
After we are safe from state-sponsored terrorism, and after the world understands that American soil cannot be violated without massive destruction of anyone even remotely connected with it, then the exact investigations can be made of who in particular manned this particular attack. But the agnosticism involved in the idea that we must study the wreckage for months to determine who is responsible is mind-crippling. It is also a massive evasion. International terrorism has been supported for years by a series of governments. It is long past the time that they be made to pay for their actions.
Now, given these material requirements for our survival, we must face the intellectual nature of this war. The fact is that the Islamic Jihad is only one part of a concerted attack on western values, principally our capacity for reason and our desire to live. Our enemies are not only foreign-they live amongst us. To understand this we must understand what our attackers actually want, and who they are.
The attackers hate the West because the West brings prosperity.
Make no mistake, it is not that they want the prosperity that has been supposedly denied to them. This argument is a Marxist construct, designed to support the view that the economic oppression of the Middle East caused the present crisis. This argument is itself an attack on the US. In fact the Arab states are swimming in oil revenues, produced by the western oil industry, and their leaders are among the richest people on earth. Let them work to establish a pro-achievement business climate, and start businesses to employ their people. Let them give their own wealth away, if they think that is the answer. But they do not value prosperity.
They have the same attitude towards freedom. There has never been a revolution in a Middle-Eastern country in favor of a constitutional republic that protects the rights of its citizens. If the people lack freedom it is because their government recognizes no individual rights. Let their governments establish these principles rather than military coups. And, I’ll add, if many people there do want freedom, what better can we do for them than to remove the source of their slavery? Their interests are identical with ours: the destruction of their governments, and the establishment of rights-protecting constitutional republics.
But the killers are not of this mind. What they rather want is for the West to lose its freedoms, and its values. They want Israel to be driven into the sea in order to allow warring tribes to return to what was, before Israel, a desert wasteland. They want the towers of New York to fall, to be replaced by muck and Dark Ages incantations. They destroyed 2000 year-old statues in Afghanistan in order to destroy the value that is art. Nihilism, the desire to destroy, is why the enemies of freedom fly planes into buildings and blow themselves up with dynamite.
At root, their desire for religious rapture in a paradise attained by mass destruction is a desire to lose the most important value of all, their own lives. Their hatred of the West is not based on jealousy but on hatred of the good because it is good. Their claim that Western culture is evil is based on their view that freedom, productiveness, achievement, reason and happiness are evil. What they want instead is the nothing, das Nichts, that is death. This is why they fly with gay abandon into the inferno-to attain a zero, for their victims and themselves.
Of course they recognize, on some level, that the material products of the West are good, since they use the products of freedom in order to destroy the products of freedom. But this shows only that they use these products-they do not value them, and they do not value those who produce them. They much prefer nothing.
They are not alone in this preference.
Their use of values to destroy values is a method that has been accepted by a series of anti-capitalists, anti-reason thugs across the globe. The Unabomber used transcontinental industries, computerized delivery services, and communication systems to build and deliver his bombs, and to publish his anti-industrial manifesto. An anti-industrial environmental protester used a mobile phone while sitting in a Redwood tree in California. An anti-capitalist protester in England co-ordinated his troops with digital text pagers. The Arab countries nationalized American and English oil industries after they had been produced, and use the money to destroy the values that made the revenues possible. And now hijackers steal transcontinental jets and turn them into missiles, in order to destroy the values and the people that produced the jet.
These people use the same method because they have the same goal: to reduce our present civilization to the level of pre-civilization, as an end in itself.
Observe how they agree. The present life expectancy in Afghanistan is 42-almost to the prehistoric ideal of the anti-technology “deep ecologists.” A motto of one environmentalist group, I remind you, is “Back to the Pleistocene.” Afghanistan has no technology-the ideal of the Unabomber. It has no businesses-the ideal of the anti-capitalists. It has rejected reason-the ideal of anti-reason professors. In these terms Afghanistan is not lacking in development-it is at the pinnacle of human aspirations.
Morally there is no difference between an environmentalist who bans DDT at the price of millions of malaria deaths, the Unabomber who selects his victims personally, the anarchist who smashes store windows and dreams of smashing structural steel, and a terrorist who rides a passenger plane into the World Trade Center. Each glories in destruction for its own sake, and each advocates death as the epitome of that destruction. It is no accident that they are all defined in terms of “anti-something.” Nothing is the aim, and the goal, of all of them. They are brothers-in-arms. Now you see the scope of the battle that America faces.
So what do we do about this? Intellectually what we must do is state an idea: that western civilization is moral because it is good. We have a right to exist, and a right to defend ourselves. The purpose and motive of western civilization is life, the exact opposite of the death-worship seen in nihilists of all stripes. Ours is the morality of life and theirs the morality of death.
Once this statement is made, and the basic rights of each person to engage in such work and to trade with others is made clear, then the way will be cleared to respond to the killers of Sep 11. The essence here is to protect those of us who value life, by granting their own wish to those who do not.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century American stands at a cross-roads. The choice we have was created, in part, by our past errors. If, when the Lockerbie airline bomber killed so many in the early 1980’s, America had presented an ultimatum to Libya backed by force, instead of begging for co-operation, it is doubtful that any government would have allowed itself to be associated with training the Sep 11 killers. The attack, and the present war, might have been avoided.
If, when a professor maintained that reason was a mere western prejudice, his students had dropped his classes and demanded his resignation, then the very idea that life, reason and freedom should negotiate with death, mysticism and slavery would be exposed and rejected.
If, when you are offered so-called “music” by anti-capitalist, anti-reason bums who chant of killing cops and blowing up buildings, you refuse to buy those albums, and you speak out against them, the so-called “artists” will receive neither stardom nor fortune. They will slither back under the rocks they crawled out of, and music companies will change their programming.
To straighten out the political and intellectual mess we face today we must re-affirm our commitment to reason and freedom, and their purpose, life, by protecting ourselves from killers, foreign and domestic, physical and intellectual. And we must do it because we are good.
John David Lewis
First published in Capitalism Magazine on September 20, 2001.