Saturday, January 7, 2006

Clifford May’s “An old-fashioned war” (Jan. 1) is interesting, however, I believe his war-centric, apocalyptic analysis is fatally flawed. Similar views have become more popular in media and government after Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of the Civilizations” was published. The events of September 11, 2001 have led to an American response largely based on this world view. The results are visible. Security and searches have increased, on planes and in many other areas of domestic life. Internationally, we have entered what we are frankly told is an endless state of war.

Now comes Mr. May to soothe us by saying that war is inevitable and is a perfectly normal state of humanity. “We are the historical oddballs,” he says, presumably because some of us naive Westerners are squeamish about going to war. Apparently, Mr. May thinks we suffer from an appalling lack of desire to dominate the world. Is he saying that we should emulate Genghis Khan and pursue our enemies, take their property, and then their wives and daughters? Take a little joy in our conquests? Get jiggy with it? I’m hoping I misunderstood him.

Mr. May seems to forget who starts wars. It isn’t the people. It’s the governments who have an historic propensity to war. People tend to co-exist peacefully if no government incites them, oppresses them or plays favorites. Just because governments have never refrained from doing this does not equate to a genetic human desire to kill and subjugate our fellow man. He talks about Napoleon and the Nazis, conveniently forgetting that the people of France and Germany didn’t plot to take over the world; their state leaders came up with the idea.

Before we start painting our faces and doing war dances, I think we should consider whether the whole thing is really as inevitable as Mr. May would have us believe. What if it isn’t? September 11 is the key. Without it, most likely we’d have no DHS, no TSA, no Patriot Act, no War on Terror, and tens of thousands still alive, with their limbs intact, and a whole lot less wealth squandered. We simply cannot overstate the impact of the attacks. Maybe if we stepped back for a minute, we would even realize that we’ve allowed September 11 to achieve a disproportionate impact on us — that is to say, goaded us into doing a number of hasty, expensive, ill-considered and violent things that weren’t really needed.

But no one is stepping back. The government started responding immediately with the Patriot Act and still hasn’t stopped. The problem is that the government itself unwittingly caused the attacks, and I don’t mean by failing to stop them. The real root cause was the disarmed state of the planes to begin with — nothing more and nothing less. That was the honey that drew the flies — the one policy that guaranteed that the attacks could take place in the horribly effective way they did. Considering the terrorists’ level of hate, we know that they must have planned the very worst attack that they had the capability to execute, but even so, their plan was dependent on the planes being guaranteed free of firearms.

This disarming was done in the name of safety, with our complicity. Now we know that disarmament policies are not safe, especially in serious and risky situations. Even if there were no al Qaeda — it’s an invitation to mischief. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king; and on disarmed planes, the box cutter man becomes king. All Americans, however, are supposed to be sovereigns with the right to bear arms; we should never have had to flail away at psychotic terrorists with purses, shoes and laptops. If you disarm people, you have to actively guard them, or you can’t disarm them in the first place. You can’t just say “We tried to get all the weapons, but we missed some. Sorry. We’ll search you a lot better now.”

Disarmed environments are dangerous, tempting targets. There will always be too many of them to secure without assistance from the people. Knowing this, we can see that since the government actually enticed the attacks by disarming us, such a deficiency ought to have been the very first thing corrected afterward, but instead it’s been everything else. I think what’s odd is how folks like Clifford May want to portray a tsunami of laws, searches, expenditures and wars as inevitable and “ordinary” when the whole thing probably wouldn’t have even happened had we only done something so cheap and simple as ending the policy of disarming airline passengers.


Libertarian activist, commentator and analyst

Brookeville, Md.

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