SEPTEMBER 26, 2001
Pearl Harbor, Sarajevo, and the Events of September Eleventh
-- Edward McGlynn Gaffney, Jr
As we grapple with the terrifying events of 11 September 2001, we are haunted by analogies from our past. But historical analogies require careful examination, for choosing among them influences the way we will think, speak, and act.
Commentators have compared the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to Pearl Harbor, because both attacks came without warning. With Pearl Harbor as the primary analog, the attacks on New York and Washington were quickly termed "acts of war." That is understandable, but dangerously imprecise. It cloaks massive illegality under the guise of rules of engagement -- the very thing that terrorists deny by their outrageous transformation of civil aircraft into weapons of destruction.
The attacks on New York and Washington were also unlike Pearl Harbor in that the destruction wrought by Japanese forces had an obvious and official governmental return address. As President Bush acknowledged in his address to Congress last week, the perpetrators of the recent attacks are a "collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations" and "there are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries." This is not the language of war, but of crime.
The analogy with Pearl Harbor limps badly and leads to policy judgments of dubious value. The recent atrocities have a much closer precedent in the events leading up to World War I. On June 28, 1914, Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated in Sarajevo. The Austrian investigation into the terrorist attack could not establish a firm connection with Serbia, the likeliest suspect in harboring, if not organizing the assassination. In the meantime, revulsion against the deed abated. When the Austrians decided to act against Serbia (without clear evidence or clear aims--just to "punish" Serbia), they did not have the kind of support that would have prevented the grievance from erupting into global conflict with devastating consequences for decades.
This is not the time to launch smart or dumb bombs in a war that cannot be won from the skies. The objective of locating a suspect is a just one. The killing of innocent men, women and children who live in their neighborhoods is not. It will not avenge our painful loss. It will recruit new members for the terrorists. This is not even the time to launch an invasion of infantry divisions in a war that the Russians can assure us will not go well for us, and will only rally impoverished Afghanis around leaders under whom they chafe.
It is time to call off the war metaphor. We are dealing not with acts of war committed by a nation state, but with massive criminality that calls for an extraordinary effort to identify and locate the perpetrators, and to bring them to justice. Not infinite justice, but human justice - the only kind we are capable of - condign, focused, measured, and appropriate.
This is the time - as with any organized criminal activity - to follow the money and freeze the assets of known criminals. This is the time for making it much more difficult for thugs to hijack civil aircraft. This is the time to forge a new level of international cooperation in the investigation of this crime, including the expansion of our links to countries toward whom we have not "tilted" in the past, Pakistan and India among them.
All of these things can be done without the rhetoric or actions of war. To follow the rule of law under these most painful circumstances is to deny the lawless the power of their claim that might is right. Human Rights Watch put this point well: "There are people and governments in the world who believe that in the struggle against terrorism, ends always justify means. But that is also the logic of terrorism. Whatever the response to this outrage, it must not validate that logic. Rather, it must uphold the principles that came under attack [on September 11], respecting innocent life and international law. That is the way to deny the perpetrators of this crime their ultimate victory."
The attacks on New York and Washington were on twin symbols of American economy, culture, and democratic governance. Americans correctly understand that this assault was aimed squarely at our institutions and at our national identity. But this assault was also on principles of respect for civilian life cherished for centuries by all civilized people. Remembering that will help keep our reply focused and proportionate to the evil at hand. It is profoundly American to make critical distinctions between the guilty and the innocent; between perpetrators and innocent civilians in their neighborhoods; and between those who commit atrocities and those who may simply share their religious beliefs, ethnicity or national origin.
These distinctions were hard won in American history. When we beg God to bless America, our prayer should be for greater awareness of these distinctions, which are divine blessings on all humankind.
-- Ed Gaffney teaches International Law and the Use of Force at Valparaiso University School of Law.