2002-09-07 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

The saying, "Freedom is Not Free," is more than a T-shirt slogan. It is an absolute truth.

On September 29 of last year, with the smoke still rising from Ground Zero and with those working at the site still being called "rescue workers," I wrote an editorial for The Wave that ended with these words: "…we have to develop both the political will to win and the civilian will to do what is needed to get the job done. That is easier said than done, but we have done it twice in the past. It is time to do it once again."

Now, a year later, I look back at those words and worry that Americans have not developed either the personal or the political will to fight the terrorism that brought down the World Trade Center towers on that terrible day in September of 2001.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the nation bound together to fight the fascist threat both in Europe and in Asia. Sure, our nation made mistakes in the face of a sneak attack that destroyed most of our Pacific Fleet. Interning Japanese-Americans in concentration camps was only the major mistake of many.

But the nation came together to fight for what many said was the "American way of life." Even the Japanese sons of those elders interned decided to fight. Americans had both the political will and the personal will to give up whatever was needed to win that fight. It took four years, but we did and there are few today that would argue that the win was not worth the price.

On October 4, 1957, the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR) launched a satellite called "Sputnik" into Earth orbit. That event was not a memorable for most Americans, but it did nearly as much to change America’s perception of itself and it changed the world as well.

Once again, America bound together and went to work. With the consent of the American people, funding that allowed our German scientists to beat their German scientists to the moon was released and we won the race into space. Eventually, the USSR and its Communist ideology game way to its own brand of democracy as well.

I was just two when Pearl Harbor was attacked, but I was 18 when Sputnik was launched and I remember well the way the nation came together, developed the political will to win the space race, and took charge.

I don’t get the same feeling this time around. When the president and his advisors (not my favorite people, but all that we have right now) tried to pass laws that would make it easier to track and stop the terrorists who still threaten us, a large percentage of the population screamed, "Unconstitutional."

When Muslim men who fit the profile of the men who had hijacked the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were stopped at airports, the ACLU and its supporters screamed "Profiling."

When Taliban fighters who had given their all to kill Americans and protect Osama bin Laden were captured and brought to a prison camp at Gunatanimo Bay in Cuba, the elite screamed "We’re mistreating those poor men."

When the educational elite planned for students to learn about the attack, they wrote feel-good lessons that do not address the twin questions of who and why at the same time they somehow blame America for the attacks. "Nobody is to blame but ourselves," they scream.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, American went to war the next day.

When Sputnik beeped for the first time in 1957, we were in a different kind of war, but a war nevertheless. Americans found the will to win.

In each case, there were uncomfortable truths to be learned and overcome. Tens of thousands gave their lives during World War II and those who remained home endured hardships as well.

What we call "The Cold War," also had an impact on both our fighting forces (Berlin, Korea, Vietnam) as well as those who remained home. The race for space was only a small part of that war and the funding necessary to keep it going impacted on many Americans.

We are still at war. Most Americans understand that.

A full 72 percent of those questioned recently for a Daily News poll said that it was "somewhat likely" or "very likely" that there will be another terrorist attack on New York City "soon."

They are probably right. The other 28 percent have their heads stuck in the sand. Only twenty percent of those who say that we will soon be attacked, however, want an increased police or military presence in the city to forestall the expected attacks. Only six percent want to allow random searches of people around potential targets. Less than half favor profiling of people who are of Arab descent.

Nearly half of New Yorkers say that they do not want to see America pursue the war into Iraq, one of the nations that funds and fosters terrorism. That is an interesting statistic, because nearly 70 percent of all Americans who responded to the poll say that we should take military action against Iraq.

Even the government is vacillating. Saudi Arabia is the major supplier of both funds for the terrorists and of the terrorists themselves. The great majority of men who slammed airplanes into American buildings were Saudi.

The Saudis have refused us use of bases from which to purse terrorists in the Middle East. They have provided funds to the families of suicide bombers who attack our ally, Israel.

Yet we continue business as usual with the oil-rich potentates who run that nation.

It is clear that we have not yet developed either the political will or the personal will to fight terrorism on the level we must fight if we are to win.

Perhaps it will take another attack to give us the will. I hope not. We have been battered far too much to take another body blow. Unfortunately, the planning for such a blow is underway as you read this. Without the will to win, we must certainly suffer more attacks.

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