The Unknown Enemy
September 11, 2001
predictable. For years Ive been writing that the U.S. Government has
been making more enemies than Americans really need, all over the globe, and that
one of these days some of them would have a nasty surprise for us.
In fact it nearly happened a few years ago,
when Islamic radicals tried to blow up the World Trade Center. But of course they
made a botch of it and got caught.
This time, though, someone pulled off what
must have been an extremely cunning conspiracy, a criminal feat for the ages. They
managed to execute a secret plan calling for four simultaneous hijackings of
airplanes. Those who committed these coordinated deeds in spite of all
security measures also had the determination to die in hitting their
This wasnt terrorism.
This was war. It wasnt a random attempt to scare people with an arbitrary
atrocity, like the bombing of a pizza joint; it was a serious attempt to kill as
many people and do as much material damage as possible at two strategic targets,
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But, as I write, hours after the attacks, we
dont know who is at war with us. We may never know. Who has reason to
hate this country? Only a few hundred million people Arabs, Muslims,
Serbs, and numerous others whose countries have been hit by U.S. bombers.
Imagine hating a country so much that you
were willing to cross an ocean and carry out an elaborate revenge against its
people, killing yourself in the process. This is something far more than the sort of
ideological anti-Americanism that leads student mobs to throw stones at U.S.
embassies abroad; thats kid stuff. This is an obsessive, fanatical,
Foreigners arent quite real to
Americans, and most Americans are unaware of how profoundly their government
antagonizes much of the human race. We are easy-going people who generally have
no idea how bullying we seem to foreigners. Until now, we have had no experience
of what the U.S. Government has so often inflicted on others. Now, at least, we
have an inkling of what it feels like.
Government spokesmen have responded with
their usual cant of cowardly attacks by terrorists
who hate democracy and freedom. Rubbish. A fanatic who is ready to
die is the opposite of a coward, and nobody can hate such
abstractions as democracy and freedom with that kind of intensity.
Its dangerous to belittle your enemy,
especially when his courage and cunning have already proved as formidable as his
hatred and cruelty. The first question you should ask about your enemy is why he is
your enemy in the first place.
You may be deluding and flattering yourself if
you assume he hates you for your virtues. But our leaders assure us
that our enemies are unnaturally evil people who hate us only because we are so
wonderful. And they manage to utter this nonsense with an air of tough-minded
True realism, on the other hand, doesnt
mean blaming Americans for bringing these horrifying and truly evil acts on
themselves. It does mean trying to imagine alien perspectives from which our
governments conduct might appear so intolerable that some people might
be driven to take atrocious revenge.
To understand all is to forgive
all, says the French aphorism. Not true. But understanding all can at least
teach you how to avoid making enemies, and avoiding making enemies is the best
defense better than a $300 billion defense budget that
didnt defend the World Trade Center.
The great director Jean Renoir was once asked
why there were no villains in his films. He answered simply: Everyone has
his reasons. Your bitterest enemy may have his reasons for hating your
guts. You may not think they are good or sufficient reasons, but youd better
take them into account. If he has any brains, he may find a way to hurt you.
The United States is now a global empire that
wants to think of itself as a universal benefactor, and is nonplussed when
foreigners dont see it that way. None of the earlier empires of this world,
as far as I know, shared this delusion; the Romans, the Mongols, the British, the
Russians and Soviets didnt expect to rule and to be loved at the same time.
Why do we?