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Terrorism and the Second Cold War

November 18, 2001

by Bruce Walker

Pundits have been working overtime to come up with the right historical analogy for America’s war on terrorism. Liberals, almost reflexively, have begun to speak of "another Vietnam." There are similarities. American warriors will be fighting a vicious and tough enemy within a small, weak, distant Asian nation. There are no battle lines and no armored columns to decimate, as America did in northern France or southern Iraq. The caves of Afghanistan might seem best to resemble the triple canopy forests of Vietnam.

But there are also vast differences between this conflict and Vietnam. The North Vietnamese never deliberately attacked our nation, and their overt goal was never our destruction. Our mission in Vietnam was never articulated very well by American leaders. Were we fighting for our national security? Vietnam itself seemed a petty threat. Were we fighting Communism? Then why were we not fighting the real leaders of Communism in Moscow or more convenient Communist regimes like Cuba?

Some people have tried to compare our fight today with the Second World War. An enemy across the seas launched a sneak attack on America at Pearl Harbor, and certainly the nation rallied around Franklin Roosevelt, who rose to the occasion just as George W. Bush has risen to the occasion.

The Second World War was a war of conventional combat against specific nations. The peoples of these nations, the Germans and the Japanese, were our enemies in a way that the Afghan peoples themselves are not. Taliban rules more like Bolshevik rulers who have seized power in an coup than in the Nazi and Japanese Imperialist ruling cliques, who accurately reflected the general will of two very well educated and technologically advanced peoples. The terrorist network is very much a transnational activity, while the Second World War was a battle for specific territory.

Other commentators have suggested that we have begun a Cold War like the one which America and its allies began under President Truman. This global battle of military, economic, and political forces with shifting alliances and armed combat itself was only an ancillary part of the overall war. Ideology and heavy infiltration of America by disloyal Americans was a critical element of this global struggle.

While this sounds reasonably close to our present struggle, the Cold War begun under Truman had ended by the 1970s. Realpolitik, as defined by Henry Kissinger, was the policy of the United States. Support for alliance systems weakened within the defended nations themselves. Fear of thermonuclear war and Leftist loathing of America and freedom led to moral equivalency arguments about how Soviet Communism and American Free Enterprise were two different ways of approaching economics.

This First Cold War, begun by Harry Truman, was plagued from its earliest days with a strategic decision not to seek victory but only survival. So MacArthur was not to conquer Communist China or even North Korea, but to stabilize the front. Dwight Eisenhower, an otherwise good President, ended the Korean theater short of victory and declined to support popular revolution in Hungary, Poland, and East Germany. Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all sought ways of avoiding , not winning, war.

President Bush has reminded us that the war today is not a war like Desert Storm. So what, if any, historical analogy is valid to our present conflict? There was not one Cold War against Communism, but two Cold Wars. President Reagan began the Second Cold War in January 1981, whose objective, as the Gipper so succinctly stated was this: "How about this: we win; they lose?" Soon President Reagan would hear gasps from those who ended the First Cold War, when he plainly called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire."

Not every President can wage this sort of war. What President Reagan said in 1981 was much like what President Lincoln said at Gettysburg. America stands for something profoundly good. This nation was not founded upon Realpolitik of Kissinger and Nixon or the paper prosperity of Clinton and Gore. More than any other nation on Earth, America stands for noble ideals.

Those who oppose America because of its ideals are, as our President puts it, "evildoers." The sort of mendacious pseudo-Jihad waged against America and societies sympathetic to America is indefensible on any intellectual or moral ground. Like the Marxist Tsars, bin Laden and his fellow monsters are propelled by a desire to spread misery around the world.

These people are not "as bad as Nazis." They are worse than Nazis. National Socialism had a significant measure of popular support, and it also had a real - though hopelessly perverted - intention of improving the lot of the German people. Taliban cannot make any such claim. Its peoples are captives as much as the Russians, Czechs, Poles, and Ukrainians were captives of an alien regime twenty years ago.

President Bush has defined the enemy as one with whom good people cannot negotiate, cannot trust, and cannot allow to exist. The President has also carefully separated wicked gangs from victimized peoples who do not support the wickedness. So, while bombing German and Japanese cities made political, moral, and military sense - the misguided peoples of Germany and Japan were the strength of our enemies then - President Bush has declared that the Afghan people, the Arabs, and the Moslems of mankind are not our enemies, but rather the conscript troops of slave armies, as much our "foe" as the black slaves in South Carolina during the American Civil War. And as much our "foe" as Hungarian freedom fighters in 1956 or Polish union leaders in 1980 or Chinese students at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

So now we are engaged in a Third Cold War, which will be fought in many places and at many levels. What President Bush has done for us, and for the world, is to declare this is a war that we must and will win. He has seized boldly the moral high ground - which to many liberals is just a "word," but to people living in the real world is a priceless advantage - and he will hold that ground for us until we prevail. President Bush is not carrying on a war like FDR or Truman or even his father in Desert Storm. He is fighting the same great and clear moral struggle, the same life and death "no holds barred" conflict that Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan fought and won, not just for America but for the world.

It is not coincidence that Lincoln and Reagan were both incomparably noble men. Aside from George Washington, no two men who have served as President so personify that strength which comes from a character grounded entirely in moral purpose than these two great men. Until now.

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