- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

So this is war fever? Those of us under 75 have never felt such a force. We are impelled forward, together, as if over a waterfall. There is neither time nor will to pause and contemplate. Like some paleolithic tribe mysteriously, instantly we know to swarm in a common direction; each of us but a pulse in a single larger organism. At this moment, the idea of free will stands as a mockery and reproach to our dominating instincts. And despite the anguish and dread, there is an aliveness and thrill to the moment. Life, apparently, is most savored when it is most threatened.

We are not alone in this experience. The great leaders of Europe at the beginning of World War I in 1914 almost to a man described exactly these same feelings. Sir Edward Grey, British foreign secretary, admitted: "One of the strongest feelings during the July crisis had been that I had no power to decide policy." [The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand occurred on June 29, 1914; the war began on Aug. 1]. "I used to torture myself by questioning whether foresight or wisdom could have prevented the war, but I have come to think that no human individual could have prevented it."

Lloyd George who was first chancellor of the exchequer, then prime minister called the start of the war "A cataclysm, a typhoon, beyond the control of statesmen … at the fateful hour … I felt like a man standing on a planet that had been suddenly wrenched from its orbit … and was spinning wildly into the unknown."

Winston Churchill, then first lord of the admiralty, talked of "profound magnetic reactions." Herbert Asquith, the prime minister, explained: "It is impossible for people of our blood and history to stand by while a bully sets to work …"

The Austrian chief of the general staff, Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, wrote that: "The catastrophe came almost inevitably and irresistibly because of the great principle of struggle for survival."

And yet, in retrospect, the calamity of World War I which ended three dynasties, killed 10 million soldiers and ushered in a century of unprecedented human slaughter was avoidable. Germany didn't have to give Austria a blank check. Britain didn't have to enter the war. Men could have made other decisions, but they were hypnotized by the swirl of events into a sense of impotence.

Now, 87 years later, we are once again lurching forward, this time towards a possible nuclear, chemical or biological calamity of unknown magnitude without public thought, without debate and without dissent.

I am not arguing that any decision made by our government is wrong. I am arguing that no group of men, however wise, could have had time to think through the consequences of their words. The decision to not only go after the evil perpetrators, but to declare general war against all terrorism and the nations that give them succor, was made sometime between 9:15 a.m. and 8:30 p.m on that fateful black Tuesday. Rarely, if ever, has so momentous a national decision been made so quickly.

Napoleon's 16th military maxim holds that: "In war never do what the enemy wishes you to do, for this reason alone, because he wishes it. A field of battle, therefore, which he has previously studied and reconnoitred should be avoided."

Do we think that our reaction comes as a surprise to this cunning enemy who has selected us for this war? Is he like Brer Rabbit who begs us not to come into the briar patch?

As we go about the business of finding allies among the moderate Muslim states, does Osama bin Laden plan to undermine and overthrow those vulnerable regimes from the angry Arab street? Would we be better off enduring a harder fight without such allies, rather than expose these oil-rich sheikdoms to the dangerous politics of collaboration with the Christian West?

At a time when the seeds of democratic free markets are beginning to sprout throughout the developing world, we risk converting our outrage, our cry for justice, into a global struggle of Christendom vs. Islam, of the First World against the Third World, of the haves against the ever-growing have-nots. It's not that our plans intend such outcomes (the intentions, correctly, are to isolate and destroy the 20,000 to 50,000 active terrorists in the Mideast). But if we learn anything from the history of war it is that even carefully planned wars lead to places the planners never imagined. In 1914, Paris, Berlin, London and Vienna were all planning on the war to be over by Christmas. In 1861, congressmen and their wives rode out to Bull Run in Manassas to watch Johnny Reb skedaddle back to Dixie; while in Dixie they knew that Northern boys couldn't fight a lick.

I'm proud of our president and our Congress. I support victory by force of massive arms if necessary. But we have time to be not only brave and true, but smart. If we could cross over to the other side and ask our 5,000 fellow citizens (who now rest, God willing, in heaven) whether they can wait for their vindication until we have time to pause and think clearly, can you imagine that their answer would be no?

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