Wednesday, June 8, 2005

We may look back on some eras as heroic — that of the Founding Fathers or “the greatest generation” that fought World War II. But some eras we look back on in disbelief at the utter stupidity with which people ruined their economies or blundered into wars in which every country involved ended up worse off than before.

How will people a century from now look back on our era? Fortunately, most of us will be long gone by then, so we will be spared the embarrassment of seeing ourselves judged.

What will future generations say about how we behaved when confronted by international terrorist organizations that have repeatedly demonstrated their cutthroat ruthlessness and now the prospect of getting nuclear weapons from rogue nations like Iran and North Korea?

What will future generations think when they see the front pages of our leading newspapers repeatedly preoccupied with whether we are treating captured cutthroats nicely enough? What will they think when they see the Geneva Convention invoked to protect people who are excluded from protection by the Geneva Convention?

During World War II, German soldiers who were captured not wearing the uniform of their own army were simply lined up against a wall and shot dead by American troops.

This was not a scandal. Far from being covered up by the military, movies were taken of the executions and have since been shown on the History Channel. We understood the Geneva Convention protected people who obeyed the Geneva Convention, not those who didn’t — as terrorists today certainly do not.

What will those who look back on these times think when they see the American Civil Liberties Union, and others who have made excuses for all sorts of criminals, were pushing for prosecuting our own troops for life-and-death decisions they had a split second to make in the heat of combat?

The frivolous demands made on our military — that it protect museums while fighting for their lives, tiptoe around mosques from which people shoot at them — betray an irresponsibility worsened by ingratitude toward men who have put their lives on the line to protect us.

It is impossible to fight a war without heroism. Yet can you name a single American military hero acclaimed by the media for an act of courage in combat? Such courage is systematically ignored by most media.

If American troops kill 100 terrorists in battle and lose 10 of their own men doing so, the only headline will be: “Ten more Americans killed in Iraq today.”

Those in the media who have carped at the military for years, and have repeatedly opposed military spending, now claim to be “honoring” our military by making a big production out of publishing the names of all killed in Iraq. Will future generations see through this hypocrisy and wonder why we did not?

What will future generations say if we allow Iran and North Korea to develop nuclear weapons, which are then turned over to terrorists who can begin annihilating U.S. cities?

Our descendants will wonder how we could have let this happen when we had the power to destroy any nation posing such a threat. Knowing we had the power, they would have to wonder why we lacked the will — and why that lack was so obvious.

Nothing will more painfully reveal the irresponsible frivolity of our times than the many demands in the media and in politics that we act only with the approval of the United Nations and after winning over “world opinion.”

How long this will take and what our enemies do in the meantime while we go through these futile exercises is something that receives very little attention.

Do you remember Osama bin Laden warning us, on the eve of last year’s elections, that he would retaliate against those parts of the United States that voted for George W. Bush? The United States is not Spain, so we disregarded his threats.

But what of future generations, after international terrorists get nuclear weapons? And what will our descendants think of us — will they ever forgive us? — for leaving them in such a desperate situation because we were paralyzed by a desire to placate “world opinion”?

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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