- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

It is not — to produce a new ring from the coinage of September 11, 2001 — that “we are all Russians now.” But after the Beslan schoolhouse massacre, in a Russian province few Americans had previously heard of, possibly even the French better understand the stakes in the terrorist war.

The stakes are awful and immense: as immense as the awfulness of the terrorists themselves. Not to understand this, as September 11’s third anniversary rolls around, is to misunderstand the power and capacity of unblinking evil.

Where in the “Inferno” Dante would have assigned the hostage-takers isn’t clear: certainly someplace more than normally warm. Dante’s age, the 14th century, was itself an unkind one, but it had a certain mettle. Evil people, in its reckoning, were evil; overcoming them was, among other things, the height of prudence. It is a view no longer universally shared.

The school at Beslan is a picture window into the terrorist soul. Nor, to appreciate the view, does it matter where the terrorists hail from or what cause they espouse. What we see when we peer through that window is the revolting sight of men, yes, and of women eager to blow apart children and babies. Few humans can look at such a sight and not know that certain other humans, having made themselves over as jungle animals, now propose to gobble up the rest of us or snarl us into silence. How young we are doesn’t matter to them or how old; how upright or saintly; how tolerant, how progressive. To terrorists, we’re not people — we’re means to an end. Convert us, blow us up — it comes to the same thing.

We’ve seen it before, naturally: the Huns and Vandals, the 30 Years War, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Nazi death camps. Murder and fear, often as not, pursued as valid state policy.

To the intended victims, there was a tiny measure of comfort in this understanding. Recognizing a banner or a uniform was recognizing the enemy and sensing where danger lay.

The rationale of terror is to undermine or destroy that sense of clarity about the enemy. You can’t know when or where to expect his blow. You prepare, knowing you can’t adequately prepare. A school? Children as hostages? We might never before have imagined it. Now, we can. Now, we must.

What do we better understand about terrorists now? That anything goes; that no moral scruples obtain in their case.

Equally, there is this: Nobody has exactly the right formula for beating stateless terrorism, but holding back primly from all-out effort is exactly the wrong formula. Democrats had better bite down hard on this reality.

The present Democratic image, molded with seeming deliberation by the likes of Howard Dean and Michael Moore, is of a party angrier at the president fighting terrorism than at the terrorists he is fighting. John Kerry, with his talent for “nuance,” has gone so far as to call for a more “sensitive” war against terrorism. What this may mean we are left to wonder.

Speaking of wonder, there’s little of that in finding Americans lopsidedly favor George Bush when the issue is terrorism. No wonder, either, that the Republican National Convention, with Zell Miller forming up the cavalry, made security from terrorism its signature issue. Economically, things aren’t half as bad as the Democrats like to suggest. But in the terror fight, things may not be one-tenth as dire as Democratic rhetoric suggests.

A pre-election terrorist episode over here (please, Lord, no) could bolster Democratic claims of Republican inadequacy in the fight. Likelier, it would impress many voters with the sense that when evil people are coming to get you, “I told the administration not to do it that way” isn’t widely considered a rousing, roof-raising call to arms.

William Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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