How will future Americans judge our response to terrorist threat?

June 09, 2005|By Thomas Sowell

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? What will future generations say about how we behaved when confronted by international terrorist organizations that have repeatedly demonstrated their cut-throat ruthlessness and now had the prospect of getting nuclear weapons from rogue nations such as 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 cut-throats nicely enough? What will they think when they see the Geneva Conventions invoked to protect people who are excluded from protection by the Geneva Conventions?

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 then that the Geneva Conventions protected people who obeyed the Geneva Conventions, not those who didn't - as terrorists today certainly do not.

What will those who look back on these times think when they see that the American Civil Liberties Union and others who have made excuses for all sorts of criminals were pushing for the prosecution of 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 they protect museums while fighting for their lives, that they tiptoe around mosques from which people are shooting at them - betray an irresponsibility made worse by ingratitude toward men who have put their lives on the line to protect us.

What will the generations of the future say if we allow Iran and North Korea to develop nuclear weapons that are then turned over to terrorists who can begin to annihilate American 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 that we had the power, they would have to wonder why we did not have the will - and why it was so obvious that we did not.

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 will be doing in the meantime while we are going through these futile exercises is something that gets 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 President 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 senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His syndicated column appears Thursdays in The Sun.

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