by Joe Sobran

April 12, 2005

[Originally published by Universal Press Syndicate, 
March 11, 1997, this is a particularly prescient column.
-- Griffin Internet Syndicate]

     How can the United States defend itself in the 
future? Some learned minds are wrestling with this 
question as new forms of conflict take shape. In the past 
wars were fought on battlefields the way football is 
played in stadiums. International law worked out rules of 
engagement to which most governments subscribed most of 
the time.

     "Alas," writes former undersecretary of defense Fred 
Ikle in the WALL STREET JOURNAL, "America's future 
enemies may not fight according to these Marquess of 
Queensbury rules." Mr. Ikle foresees the use of nuclear, 
chemical, and biological warfare "in that unanticipated 
region of warfare -- the United States itself." No force 
on earth can stand up to American military power on the 
battlefield, so we can expect future enemies to ignore 
the old codes. Some of these prospective enemies may not 
even be governments.

     "Past experience with terrorism is a poor guide for 
such a contingency," Mr. Ikle observes. Indeed. Such 
tactics as killing or kidnapping a few civilians may 
someday seem as quaint as the 78 rpm phonograph.

     What would happen if a nuclear device devastated the 
heart of Washington, D.C. -- and our surviving government 
officials didn't even know who had detonated it? That 
wouldn't be "terrorism," which is essentially a 
psychological tactic whose perpetrators usually claim 
responsibility; it would be a substantial act of war, by 
an enemy who might be impossible either to identify or 

     The only sure result would be panic. There would be 
no point in surrendering; the damage would have been 
done, and a formal, Appomattox-style ceremony, with U.S. 
officials yielding to a tiny cell of expert bombers, 
would be absurd. But we can be certain that the official 
response would be a crackdown -- on the remaining 
liberties of U.S. citizens, the only people our 
government could control.

     One reason it might be hard to pinpoint the enemy is 
that our government is making so many enemies. The United 
States dominates the globe, and many foreigners just 
can't comprehend that we are the good guys. In terms of 
their own cultures and interests, we may appear to them 
as the bad guys.

     The narrow-minded Russians don't see why NATO should 
push up against their borders by including their 
neighbors, while excluding Russia itself. The pig-headed 
Arabs, Iranians, and others think the United States is 
making war on Islam. The self-centered Chinese consider 
us aggressive prigs who are muscling in on "their" part 
of the world. Small-minded Latin Americans think the 
United States is a bully.

     Maybe all these people are wrong. And there are 
still many others around the world who like Americans. 
But the question is whether we can afford to antagonize 
so many people indefinitely. It's possible to be 
absolutely in the right and stupid at the same time.

     If the people who hate us can't drive us out of 
their regions, some of them may want to bring the fight 
here. It would take only a sophisticated handful of 
weapons experts, out of several billion people. They 
wouldn't think of themselves as evildoers; they might see 
themselves as Luke Skywalker destroying the imperial 
Death Star.

     The old European empires never had to worry about 
this, for the simple reason that most of their colonial 
peoples had only the most primitive weapons and no way to 
reach European capitals; retaliation was unimaginable. 
When the white man had a monopoly of gunpowder, the odds 
were so lopsided that the Europeans hardly thought of 
their Asian, African, and American conquests as wars; 
"wars" were affairs between European states.

     So far, Americans have paid for their empire only in 
the high taxes needed to sustain military forces that go 
far beyond any real defensive needs. Mr. Ikle doesn't use 
the word empire; he uses the customary formula, defense 
of American interests, which can cover anything, 
anywhere. But an empire it is, even if we prefer to call 
it world leadership, and the price could rise with 
stunning suddenness.

     The best defense is not to make enemies in the first 
place. But this elementary prudence is now called 
"isolationism" (though it might better be called 
"multiculturalism"). If a big American city goes up in a 
mushroom cloud, isolationists will look like prophets.

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