Will Terrorism Win?

Peter Ustinov said “Beliefs are what divide people.  Doubt unites them.”  There are numerous periods in history to support the statement.  Most notably, the World Wars brought global division that united one side against the other.  Internal disagreements were put on hold.  Unity ruled until the ‘doubt’ of the future was replaced by victory. 

Today this country is experiencing a level of division that is demonstrated by hate talk to an extent that rivals any of the significant flash points of our young country’s history; including desegregation in the 1960’s, states’ rights and slavery in the 1860’s, independence from the crown in the 1760’s and 70’s, and formation of our new government in the late 1700’s.

History summarizes major issues and events with discussions of the social, institutional, or political circumstances of the time.  But it often excludes the voices and emotions of the actual people involved.  Each of these periods in our past was marked by ugly and visceral personal attacks by the players involved.  During the civil rights movement in the 1960’s George Wallace proved to be an easy target for those opposed to segregation.  Dr. King was equally hated by many white separatists.

Our nation’s worst years, the War Between the States, were marked by bitter division between large groups, parties, and sections of Americans.  Personalities such as Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, pro-taxing northern politicians, and southern slave-owners became lightening rods for hate and divisive rhetoric.

Following our independence from England, uncertainty and division characterized the relationships between our founding fathers as they struggled to form our new government.  John Adams, a moderate Federalist favored centralized control while Thomas Jefferson, a Republican, thought power should be distributed among the states.  The struggle often resulted in attacks on the other’s personal character.  Adams was labeled a ‘tool of the wealthy’ while Jefferson was accused of being a friend toFranceand revolutionary disorder.

But America survived these challenges and issues were eventually resolved.   Each time life returned to ‘normal’ and the media barrage subsided.

Today we are constantly barraged by global opinions and images through the ever-present media.  The Internet, radio, and television provide more public venues for opinion than at any point in history, by a huge factor.  The power of global communication to unite humanity was powerfully demonstrated in the days following terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.  The world mourned with us, offered assistance, and promised to unite in the fight against global terrorism.

Since then, unity has broken down and division seems to reign at every level.  It’s difficult to recall a time when more politicians, actors, journalists, pundits, friends, or associates spoke in more vitriolic tones.  The election is six months away and the rhetoric is already ugly.  The anger and intensity of these personal attacks, heard round the world, serve as proof to terrorists that their tactics to divide us are working.  They likely revel when words like “the emperor has no clothes” and “the president’s leadership and the actions taken inIraqdemonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment and experience” are spoken by political leaders on the floor of the House of Representatives.

InIraqthe terrorists believe thatAmerica’s resolve can be tested, maybe even defeated by the steady reports of the killing of soldiers and innocents.  They further know that an election approaches and that war policy can be affected by political realities.  They have only to look at President Carter and the Iranian hostage crisis for proof.  More recent and even more efficient were the bombings in Spain which overturned an election and resulted in that county’s withdrawal of its military support of the Coalition.  The acceleration of the turnover of sovereignty toIraqwas clearly driven by the election timeline.  And it is almost a given that additional major policy decisions and reversals will be made in reaction to terrorist actions.

There are no quick or simple answers to the threats posed to humanity by terrorism.  But it is clear that the current trend toward division and hatred, world-wide, favors the terrorists.  It is also clear that the issues are vastly more complex than can be communicated or understood in the media snippets with which we are constantly bombarded.

Honest and civil arguments over policies aimed at defeating terrorism are vital to the process of reaching consensus and unity.  But the self-serving diatribes that are growing in frequency on a global basis are dangerously counter-productive.  These are trends that deserve our full attention.  Our enemies are watching.  Are they encouraged?  Are they winning?

So far terrorists have not managed slow the U.S. and Asian economic recoveries.  While yesterday’s worry ‘du jour,’ unemployment, has been replaced by rising fuel prices, the recovery continues to plow ahead.  It is the opinion of the experts that we follow that today’s high crude and gasoline prices are driven more by speculators than by supply and demand issues.  If the experts are right and if OPEC, which controls 30% of the world’s oil supply, vote to increase supply shortly then prices will fall to normal levels and the economic dampening effects will dissipate.  It is also quite likely that the Federal Reserve will be very careful with their rate increases, removing another threat to the global economic recovery.

While the ultimate resolution of terrorism seems to be allusive to world leaders now, it seems evident that the engine that drives it all – the economy – is growing stronger each week, much to the chagrin of terrorists.