- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 1999

Terrorists are intent on causing real harm to American citizens, and Americans are wondering why. The answer says much about our world, our heritage and our responsibility as leaders of the free world and civilized people.

Terrorists attack free people all over the globe, not just Americans. However, America is the crown jewel of civilized society. When terrorists attempt to kill Americans, they are not only seeking to shatter our confidence and shake our very foundation, but also to send a message well beyond our borders: No one is safe; we despise your values, and we will kill any human being in order to change the order of the world.

Bringing change through peaceful means, by winning an election or pursuing fundamental reform under the rule of law, is not a consideration of terrorist organizations. Such action would require persistence, the power of persuasion and respect for opposing points-of-view. It would mean that human life was to be held in the highest regard and that a link is clearly established between mankind and our Creator the giver of life.

Terrorists may use the blood of innocent victims to intimidate the strong, but their real message is directed at the vulnerable. Through a pattern of senseless violence, accompanied by acquiescence or downright fear on the part of victims and bystanders alike, they hope for a bargain or negotiation they cannot win in a civilized, democratic way. They attempt to drive up the stakes and make us question if the price of insisting on our way is something we can afford. They hope to turn us against our leaders in the name of peace.

We can take a lesson from Steven Ambrose's book about the American GI in World War II, "Citizen Soldier," an amazing portrait of ordinary U.S. citizens in combat against the opponents of freedom. It showed that everyday Americans could be heroes. Americans recognized the need to fight for the values of the civilized world. Compromise and conciliation were out of the question. Our common commitment made the world safe for democracy. Today's terrorist war is fought on a different battlefield but it is about the same issues maintaining justice, the rule of law, respect for human life, and democratic institutions. This war can only be won with the same commitment by each citizen that an earlier generation of Americans demonstrated more than a half-century ago.

Sometimes Americans feel that we carry a burden that is far greater than our fair share. We become frustrated as we sense that others on our team resent us and question our motives. Even as the leader of the free world, we feel tempted at times to just take care of ourselves. But we must remember that we, as a nation, have received many blessings. And with those blessings comes a responsibility to shoulder the burdens of leadership and stand in the breach against those forces that threaten the future of a civilized world. We have done so before. We can, and must, do so again.

Rep. John R. Kasich is an Ohio Republican.

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