By J.F. McKenna
A day after the capture of the surviving Boston terrorist, the cable anchor rendered his top-of-the hour verdict that the danger was in effect over. All that his tone of assurance lacked was an accompanying grounding in fact. True, this particular eruption had indeed reached its zenith, leaving behind death and confusion and a collective sense of uneasy bravado among Greater Boston’s residents. Nowhere in sight, however, was the resolution to Mark Twain’s often quoted paradox about man—“the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.”
As I watched a few more minutes of news, I recalled a line from an editorial I had written for a business magazine in September 2001: “We are indeed a global economy in every sense. And a product we have never wanted has reached our borders.” The 9/11 jihadist attack in New York had proved a spectacular if lethal marketing blitz. Boston was the latest distribution point. And it’s anybody’s guess where a delivery from Hell might appear next—Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Denver or Seattle…
America has wide-open shelves for a product without a demand except by the producers themselves.
As the historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote in 2007, “bin Laden cited dozens of concocted reasons about why he attacked the United States; the only valid one was that he attacked America because he thought…he could get away with it.” Political campaigners regularly reminded us last year that “bin Laden was dead.” These same politicians omitted that the hatred—and the danger engendered by that hatred—hadn’t died with him. If anything, the once imported product of terrorism has become more potent over time, relying on a perversion of door-to-door marketing and enlisting neighborhood vendors who redefine the concept of hard selling.
Bleak as the metaphor strikes most of us, now is not the time to resign ourselves to terrorism as an inevitable global evil. Rather, it’s time to re-declare ourselves as a free people, to make our American time a high point in Western civilization, and the standard by which the world’s free tomorrows will be measured. In short, it’s time to reissue a classic Yankee warning to brigands here and abroad: Don’t tread on me.
To employ another metaphor—this one from the arena of duty, honor, country—leaders must be willing to take the point.
The Obama Administration, in its immediate dealings with terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, gets to establish the national tone and rhythm at the outset. The President might want to look to the Victor Davis Hansons of the nation, sages who counsel that “the key for Western societies in times of peril has been to calculate the proper balance between personal freedom and collective military preparedness.” Easy it will not be for Barack Obama, but the task is no longer above his pay grade and the stakes are nothing short of historic.
Likewise, Congress will have to forego the tiresome legislative agendas and political strategies concocted prior to the afternoon of April 15. Existing bills and inchoate deals over immigration and gun control will have to give way to the so-called clean sheet of paper on which effective short- and long-term security strategies can be drawn. Those who simply can’t abandon their embrace of the politically correct and the politically expedient will have to exercise their own sense of honesty and retire from Washington’s chambers. Again, the stakes are too high to do otherwise.
America’s Fourth Estate should take particular note of such examples. Acting as the nation’s constitutionally enshrined conscience has value only if that conscience is well-formed. Overall, the media’s recent record has been poor with regard to national-security reporting, reminding me of a long-ago comment by Bernard Lewis, that grand Western expert on the Middle East. “In more modern times,” Prof. Lewis said, “there are new threats…from what I am tempted to call the fashion tsars of the ideological hemline—those who determine what ideas shall be worn this season—what length, what style, and what cut. The set rules known as ‘political correctness’ provides one version of this.” Going forward, America will depend on trusted tellers, not rhetorical tailors, for its serious journalism.
Most important, each one of us must accept a share of the leadership, picking up a weapon—be it a tool of warfare or a tool of commerce— taking a “watch” or two, and remaining steadfast about sticking up for the more perfect union that our founders handed to us and that others would destroy.
“Consensual governments can, in extremis, craft security legislation consistent with constitutional principles that will protect citizens without eroding their rights,” Prof. Hanson said during the Margaret Thatcher Lecture in 2008. “But government has no remedy once citizens voluntarily begin to abandon freedom of expression out of fear or guilt—or misguided ideologies designed to deny the singularity of their civilization.”
The terror directed at us is a stockpiled product. Boston is just the latest delivery. More will arrive unless the marketplace is cleared.
CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, communications consultant, and former editor at Industry Week, Tooling & Production, and Northern Ohio Live magazines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his LinkedIn profile: Jos. F. McKenna.