Sometimes when I go for a run, I go to the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. The grounds, where so many of our bravest patriots peacefully rest, have a distinct, quiet power with an ability to move the most stoic visitors. Prior to Sept. 11, I would explore the cemetery with a sense of overwhelming gratitude, as I caught my breath and marshaled my strength for the run back to campus.
Embroiled in a war where Vice President Dick Cheney foresees civilians at home sustaining more casualties than the military, the message from our leaders is clear. Whether we like it or not, every American was drafted into battle on the morning of Sept. 11. Race, political ideology, economic status, age and other identifiers are now meaningless. The simple, new truth is all American citizens are now targets.
Not since World War II have we faced the weight of defending ourselves at home. Although the Cold War with the former Soviet Union had frightening moments like the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pearl Harbor and now Sept. 11 stand as the most appropriate examples of carnage brought against our home by a foreign enemy.
Who will mostly shoulder the responsibility for this new, terrible war of the 21st century? Not Afghan civilians tragically injured by a stray bomb or United Nations sanctions failing to thwart Saddam Hussein and scourges like him. No, the responsibility will fall to our generation and much of the cost will be borne by us.
Some think we should change our policies in the Middle East and take the terrorists at their word when al Qaeda says America will know peace as soon as their demands are met. Any thoughts of appeasing the demands of Osama bin Laden and his evil al Qaeda network or any terrorists should promptly be placed in “history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies,” as President George W. Bush said before Congress.
Bin Laden cares not for the Palestinian people; he wishes to eradicate a way of life he finds offensive to his distorted interpretation of Islam, one of the world’s great, peace-loving religions. The prosperous democratic system and the inexorable force of globalization are what he hates, and Israel represents this model of progress the rest of the Middle East could have if the region was not plagued by the cancer of armed, well-funded Islamic fundamentalists.
Let us also not forget about our necessary military presence in Saudi Arabia, which is another thorn in bin Laden’s side. U.S. forces are doing their part in preventing more Iraqi and terror-driven aggression in that strategically and economically important part of the world.
Most people share in the pacifists’ disgust for war wholeheartedly. However, this is not some distant fight like the war waged in Vietnam mostly on the merits of the infamous “domino theory” mistakenly predicting communism would spread if we did not stop it in Southeast Asia. In this war, we must annihilate an enemy hating us enough to see suicide as a gift and an unstoppable weapon. It would be terrible for the security and fate of the world should bin Laden’s attempts to recruit more of Islam’s one billion worldwide believers be successful.
During a conversation with one of my closest friends, we spoke of the dire possibility of coming home in a body bag. The prospect of being killed, in military action overseas or being victimized by some unspeakable horror at home, is now real. As a senior looking out to life’s unscripted path beyond college, I seriously wonder if I will live to see my 30th birthday. After Sept. 11, a thought spent pondering one’s future livelihood carries an added burden because of the unforgiving truth in our new struggle to save our way of life. I can say that a recent visit to Arlington National Cemetery strengthened my definition of dutiful sacrifice.
How do we as young Americans choose to face this daunting new challenge? Just as past generations have – continue on without fear.
– The writer, a senior majoring in business economics and public policy, is a Hatchet staff writer.