9-11: Soon We Will Have to Ask Why People Hate Us

Mr. Ryan is an associate of Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and a writer for theHistory News Service.

That the American homeland is inviolable has been a basic tenet of U.S. policy, psychology and life for nearly two centuries.

Yes, there have been scares and alarms. We feared, for example, that the Japanese would attack the West Coast in 1942 and that the Soviets would hit us with nuclear missiles during the Cold War. But those things never happened, and one can reasonably doubt that they ever would have.

But the"safe America" tenet was demolished, along with the World Trade Center buildings and a section of the Pentagon, on Sept. 11. Commentators have noted that the terrorists picked their targets with a keen eye for symbolism. They struck buildings that most represent U.S. economic and military power, the two forces that give our will such heft in the world.

But the attack has an even more important symbolism. It demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that the U.S. homeland was vulnerable. That has never been the case since the 1820s, when the British agreed to back our Monroe Doctrine and shield the Americas with their navy.

The terrorists' grim lesson has profound implications for our security policy, but also for our diplomacy. For the moment, the reasons for the attack don't matter. It was an atrocity that calls for whatever retaliation is required to destroy the perpetrating forces, and make a repetition impossible and unthinkable.

But when that is done, the people who influence and shape U.S. policy should think seriously about the hatred we seem to have elicited around the world. They should do so without the hubris and automatic patriotic cliches ("they hate us because we represent freedom") that often spring to our lips in international crises, including this one.

Hatred that can motivate an attack on such a scale cannot be trivialized and should not be ignored. When pictures of this grotesque disaster can set a crowd dancing in the street of a city abroad, we need to understand why. That will take more careful thought and franker analysis than has characterized our diplomacy to date.

Countries around the world, even one as friendly as Britain, have expressed dismay at America's Lone Ranger style in world affairs. And they did so even before President George W. Bush made it the hallmark of our diplomacy. And when that style involves our shooting at others it becomes particularly problematic.

U.S. warships lobbed shells into the Lebanese countryside as we removed our Marines from Beirut in 1984. President Clinton ordered missile and bombing attacks on Baghdad at various times in the 1990s. And we continue other, increasingly pointless, air attacks in Iraq. All those actions have raised political controversy even in the United States. They have had little political payoff for Washington, and they have earned us great resentment abroad. Would we have acted so recklessly if we were even a fraction as vulnerable as our foes?

Surely not. We need to ask ourselves when it is that we must be violent and when are we using violence simply because it is satisfying or easy. Our security now demands that we review our policies regarding the use of force. Is it adding to the hatred of this country in the world? Can we still ignore that hatred? Can we simply dismiss it with patriotic cliches?

Much of the antagonism toward America today grows out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We would not be giving in to terrorism if we were to review our policy toward that endless crisis. It has long been absurd for the United States to pose as"an honest broker," as we often describe ourselves. We guarantee that Israel will not be overpowered; we help arm it; we send it more aid than any other country in the world. Consequently, we ourselves come close to being a belligerent nation.

It is time that we encouraged real international mediation in that crisis. Yes, we should remain a major participant, but we should step out of the middle because we so overwhelmingly favor one side.

Meanwhile, if the Sept. 11 attack did indeed relate to the Middle East crisis, all reasonable Palestinian sympathizers would do well to help us stamp out its perpetrators. Until recently, most Americans have been aware of Arab opposition only through violent images. These have included that of an American sailor beaten to death on a hijacked plane, an elderly man in a wheel chair thrown into the sea, embassies bombed and on and on.

Lately, however, Palestinians and their supporters seem to have realized that these acts will not change American policy toward Palestine and Israel. That can only be done in the United States, something their opponents have long understood. Supporters of the Palestinians, including many Arab-Americans, should have been building their lobby here for decades. Still, they have at last started working for sympathetic publicity. They have even scored a"positive" story even on the front page of the New York Times. At last, we thought we could say,"they get it."

And now this! If the attack has Middle Eastern roots, it is hard to see how it will do anything but harm the Palestinians.

This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.

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Eric Bergerud - 9/23/2001

Mr. Ryan has nicely stated the argument for the appeasement of Arab grievences in Palestine. However, as is usually the case with those arguing the same case as Mr. Ryan, there is little said about what a peace would look like. If the United States used its full leverage on Israel it is possible that we could impose a settlement that would be similiar to but more generous to the Palestinians than what was proposed at Camp David last year. Such a settlement might appease large numbers of Palestinians (although I doubt it). It would probably be looked at favorably by moderate Arabs in nations like Egypt and Jordan. The problem is that groups like Hamas have made it quite clear that "peace" can only come with the "liberation" of all of Palestine. To please Hamas the U.S. would have to become an active participant in the destruction of the Jewish state. I doubt any American administration would do something so utterly craven. But Hamas looks at the Palestinian struggle in exactly the same terms as bin Laden. Let's be honest here: pleasing moderate Arabs is not going to help a bit when confronting bin Laden and his soul mates. They hate us for what we are: a secular society that has wealth and power, not for what we do. The groups that perpetrate Islamic terror consider themselves already at war with the "godless West" best represented by the United States. I don't see how we can appease these people unless we cease being what we are.

Glenn Williams - 9/20/2001

Other countries and groups of people hate us because we are strong, wealthy, powerful, but most of all, because we REPRESENT something they hate or can not have. I would like to offer some observations based on a 21-year career as a military officer, and a second career and academic training as an historian.

Equating terrorists who attack non-combatant targets with partisan insurgents like the Contras, or resistance fighters like the Afghanis we assisted in their fight against the Soviets and their client government in Kabul, is simplistic, and shows those who do so are unfamiliar with the Laws of Warfare defined by the Geneva and Hague Conventions and observed by civilized peoples. Also, the equation with our targeting terrorists in Lebanon whose comrades dastardly attacked our marines who were there on a peacekeeping mission is odious and offensive.

Although we have not seen an attack of this magnitude on our own soil before, we have been terrorist targets for some 30 years (the whole time I was on active duty). Just remember the young sailor (named Steadhelm, I believe) whose murdered body was dumped from a plane onto a runway by terrorists in 80s; the Red Brigade’s kidnap of Army General Dozier in Italy in the late 70s; and bombs being set at our military installations in Germany by the Bader-Meinhoff terrorists when I was stationed there from '76 to '79.

It's time to stop even being empathetic to the terrorists' "desperation" or for what we "did" to them. They are trying to achieve through terror what the governments with whom they are aligned have been defeated trying to do on the battlefield against Israel. If you listen to the terrorists or some of their apologists in this country and elsewhere, they think we should abandon Israel, our only reliable ally as well as the only democracy in the Middle East, like we did the Vietnamese. Don't make the mistake of trying to draw parallels to, or justifying their barbarity because of "Iran-Contra," as many of you are showing an ignorance of the details by making such an assertion.

As for terrorism, the gloves are now off. The leaders, supporters, and comrades of these terrorist bastards can run, but they can't hide. We have done it before, and recently.

When the Egyptians gave the terrorists who rolled Mr. Klinghoffer in his wheelchair off the highjacked cruise liner Achille Lauro free passage, President Reagan had F-14s force the airliner in which they were passengers to land on Crete, surrounded it with SEALs on the runway, and took them alive. When Qadaffi's terrorists bombed a Berlin disco killing American off-duty GIs, Reagan bombed the Libyan air force back to the stone age. When an ultra-Marxist coup murdered the more moderate Maurice Bishop and put American students under house arrest in Grenada, Reagan launched Operation "Urgent Fury." When Noriega's Dignity Battalion terrorists murdered some American GIs and their families in Panama, President Bush launched "Just Cause."

When we retaliate this time, I don't think it will be in the middle against sand dunes, empty buildings or abandoned equipment as in the past 8 years, but more along Reagan's example, only on a greater scale. Once our law enforcement investigators have gathered all the evidence, and intelligence analysts all the information they can so we know the who, what, when, and where, we can proceed with the how. "Infinite Justice" will strike hard and boldly at multiple targets with violence of action, but with surgical precision so as to minimize or avoid hurting noncombatants, using ground troops, not just cruise missiles or aerial bombs. To do it right will take time, so be patient. They were.


Glenn Williams
Historian, American Battlefield Protection Program,
National Park Service
Major (Ret), US Army

Jerome L. Sternstein - 9/19/2001

As usual, the Arabists in the State Department -- in Mr. Ryan's case, ex-State Department Arabists -- reflexively blame Israel and American policy towards Israel for any anti-American sentiment in the Mideast and the Islamic world. So, according to them, Bin Laden and the terrorist networks and cells associated with him would simply fade away should the US throw Israel over the side of the ship, much like the Czechs were thrown overboard at Munich and the Sudetenland was handed over to Nazi Germany. Well, we know what happened after Munich. Bin Laden's goal and the goal of radical Islam is to turn back history, which means the triumph of Western civilization and all the things it represents. America, in the view of radical Islam, is the linchpin of everything it hates: individual liberty, economic progress, freedom of religion, democracy, womens rights, the free and uninhibited flow of ideas -- one could go on and on. Radical Islam hates America not because we support the continued existence of democratic Israel but because we are the dominant defender and exemplar of the ideas and civil society it despises and fears.

Jerome L. Sternstein
Prof. of History, Brooklyn College, retired

Sally Quinn - 9/19/2001

Don't confuse Falwell's "we deserved the wrath of God for being an immoral society", a completely irrational and midieval conclusion, with "our policies in the Arab world were so bad, but so bad, that there are tremendous consequences which we cannot control", which can be supported on rational grounds and, at the very least, measures up to 18th century standards.

Michael E. Etchison - 9/18/2001

Mr. Falwell got in a lot of trouble for saying that America got what it deserved.

Isn't what you're saying a more sophisticated version of the same thing?

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