What We Still Haven’t Learned From 9/11
“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union. . . provide for the common defense. . . and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
– Preamble to the United States Constitution
“Q: What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
A: The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others. . . and protecting and defending the innocent.”
– Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 135
There is no more basic obligation of leadership than the protection of those led. Fathers are to protect children; husbands are to protect wives; pastors are to protect flocks, just as the Great Shepherd died to protect His church.
Just so, it is the duty of the civil magistrate, and particularly of the Christian statesman, to devote himself to the defense of his country.
Despite phenomenal sums spent on the military, the events of September 11, 2001 have brought into sharp focus the defenselessness of America. The United States maintains armed forces in over a hundred countries around the world; and yet, on the morning the World Trade Center was attacked, not one missile battery existed to shoot down the planes, not one of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” programs was available to destroy the atomic bombs which might have come next, and not one American town had the ability to shelter its people against nuclear, biological or chemical attack.
This is self-evidently immoral; and it’s not for lack of ability. America has been able to defend itself for decades, perhaps not perfectly, but well. What has been lacking is the will.
As Americans clean up the wreckage of September 11th, send their sons to war, and contend with anthrax and other threats at home, it is time for Christians to state the obvious: that a Defense Department which does not defend America is not only an oxymoron, it’s obscene. Our country was founded to provide for the common defense; moreover, our Creator demands that we do every lawful thing to preserve life, and particularly to protect and defend the innocent. Failing to do this is suicidal: it is also horribly wrong. And if the humanistic Left will not provide sane answers for America’s people — our sons, daughters, wives and mothers — then surely Christians must.
It was in the context of that struggle that weapons of mass destruction came to threaten the globe, and our modern defense establishment was designed to face the reality that literally any conflict anywhere had the potential to become our final battle. The primary operating assumption was a bipolar world, one in which literally everything centered on either Washington or Moscow. This core strategic simplicity lead planners to many conclusions which do not hold in today’s more complex world, but which still permeate our military’s basic design.
One of those conclusions — that only the Soviet Union could meaningfully threaten us — gave birth to the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
MAD (aptly named) was the idea that, because both the US and the USSR possessed sufficient nuclear firepower to largely destroy its opponent, neither country would attack, at least with weapons of mass destruction. As an observation, this might have made some sense. As a strategic doctrine, however, it was fantastically immoral: it required that each country foreswear all defenses, holding each other’s civilian population hostage to the threat of instantaneous mass murder. It also gave the “moral equivalence” crowd — the very people who supported MAD — a lot of ammunition.
The cornerstone of MAD was and is the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty. By this 1972 agreement, both sides renounced defenses against nuclear missiles. America, however, went further: it also dismantled any air defense system which might possibly be used in a dual role (such as the Nike-Hercules surface to air missiles, or SAMs, which once defended every American city and military base), and cancelled any follow-on programs. Needless to say, the Soviets did not reciprocate.
In this manner, the United States of America ceased to defend its own people. Moreover, in the climate of MAD, civil defense (by which is meant bomb and fallout shelters, as well as other provisions for the protection of civilians) was seen as a liability. Neither fitting within the Left’s pro-disarmament propaganda of “war is not survivable” nor its doctrine that war must not be survived, like the old soldier, it just faded away.
All of which leaves America – now facing not one threat but many, from suicidal fanatics who cannot be deterred – with nothing but a hope and a prayer.
No one knows this better than George W. Bush’s choice for Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. In 1998, Secretary Rumsfeld lead a bipartisan Ballistic Missile Threat Commission, charged with reporting to Congress, which it did late that summer. According to the commission’s three year old report, hostile countries – including Iran, Iraq and North Korea – possessed the ability to “inflict major destruction on the U.S. within about five years” of deciding to develop a nuclear ballistic missile force. The commission also found that “the U.S. might not be aware that such a decision has been made,” because the threat is “evolving more rapidly” than America’s ability to detect it.
The same year that report was released, both India and Pakistan tested nuclear devices, catching the CIA completely off-guard; the same CIA whose lack of human intelligence assets is now regularly front-page news.
The Rumsfeld Commission was particularly troubled by North Korea, whose nuclear missile force they called “well developed”, and who proved it just two months later by launching a multi-stage missile over Japan (again catching the CIA flat-footed). The commission further pointed out that the bulk of China’s missiles are already targeted at the United States, and that any country that wants competent help setting up a nuclear missile program can now easily get that help on the open market. Countries such as, say, Iraq. Or Iran.
The consequences of this spread of nuclear missiles are simply staggering. As horrifying as was the morning of September 11, it is easy to imagine waking up to live coverage of a blazing nuclear fireball consuming Manhattan, mushroom cloud growing skyward where the Empire State Building once stood.
But the threat is not only from terrorists: in 1995, when America stood ready to defend Taiwan from invasion, Communist China directly threatened nuclear attack if America intervened. General Xiong Guangkai openly boasted that America would not be willing to “trade Los Angeles for Taipei.” The ability of our enemies to blackmail us into submission grows exponentially, almost by the day. And whereas MAD at least seemed to keep the peace with Russia, who wants to bet even one American city that a starving North Korea, or a dying Saddam Hussein, will see things quite the same way?
We can defend America, no matter what the aging hippies say. We can immediately capitalize on the $50 billion investment we’ve made in the Navy’s AEGIS system and erect a sea-based (and therefore mobile) defense of the entire United States. Shortly thereafter, we can extend that defense, using existing technology (some of it existing since the 1960s) to counter virtually any threat against any country, anywhere in the world. Over time, we can make that defense multi-layered, adding land-based interceptors in the continental United States, space-based “kinetic kill” devices to destroy warheads before re-entry, even orbital lasers to destroy missiles just after launch when they’re slowest and most vulnerable. The country that sent rockets to the moon can certainly shoot the things down.
And it’s not just ballistic missiles. An AEGIS-based defense makes it possible to destroy the cruise missiles which are proliferating throughout today’s Third World (Osama bin Laden claims right now to have several Tomahawks which failed to detonate). And a properly-constructed defense of our cities’ airspace could destroy bombers, hijacked “flying bomb” airliners, or whatever our enemies might throw at us. If “homeland security” means anything, it means this. And Secretary Rumsfeld says much of it could be in place within three years.
We can only hope.
In the words of Dr. Jane Orient, President of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, “If that soot raining down in Brooklyn [from the World Trade Center] had been radioactive, there would be many thousands, maybe millions of people dying slow, agonizing deaths from radiation sickness that could have been prevented had people had access to shelter.”
But there are no shelters.
After an early rush to protect Americans in the 1950s – from the construction of fallout shelters to the famous “duck and cover” drills in schools – civil defense was effectively killed by President Kennedy. It didn’t fit with the spirit of MAD; nor did it have big-ticket defense contractors to lobby for it. After a brief revival under Reagan, the Cold War ended, and with it the program: Bill Clinton actually abolished the Office of Civil Defense, and sold off such emergency supplies as remained.
During the Cold War, the Leftist’s retort was invariably “why waste time on civil defense? When you came out of the shelter, there’d be nothing left.” A stupid comment even then, it is meaningless now: after an atomic September 11 there would have been an entire country left, waiting desperately for the return of its loved ones, precious men, women and children whose lives could have been saved with just two week’s shelter from the deadly fallout. Peacenik slogans like “after a nuclear attack the living will envy the dead” ring hollow today. Yet this legacy of foolishness remains.
Other countries were never so foolish. The Soviet Union built and stocked sufficient shelters to house over 90% of its population, and required regular civil defense training for all. China’s system is so vast and so thorough that an entire city such as Beijing can be evacuated in ten minutes. Switzerland’s civil defense network is adequate to handle its entire population as well as countless refuges, and is equipped to handle biological and chemical attacks as well.
Why should Americans have less? Why, in fact, should Americans have nothing at all?
Civil defense is inherently low tech and low cost: starting from nothing, we could protect nearly every American for a one-time investment of about $500 per person, or less than half of one year’s Defense budget (or less than 10% of one year’s federal budget), plus the cost of maintaining the shelters and training people to use them. And the shelters are hardly just for a hypothetical nuclear attack: two-thirds of the United States suffer 90% of the entire world’s tornados every year. Terrorists might use dirty bombs or chemical weapons; other natural disasters are ever with us. If Washington wants a Keynesian “stimulus package”, here’s a great place to start.
But if it doesn’t, there’s no need to wait. While deploying interceptors and AEGIS cruisers may be the province of government, civil defense need not be. Churches and other private communities are well able to take up the slack, at least in their own areas. In fact, if government apathy continues, they must. No matter what government thinks of its Constitution, we must obey the mandate of the Sixth Commandment. The lives of our loved ones must not be trusted to blind guides in the face of a clear and present danger.
Likewise, the spirit of MAD must be expunged, and civil defense must become a top national priority. This too will enhance deterrence: any potential attacker will know that, whatever physical damage he may do, the people of the United States will survive, with all their brilliance, ingenuity and determination intact. Moreover, civil defense – like missile and air defense – actually defends. It is not an offensive weapon, but purely an effort to protect the innocent. It is not merely moral: it is a moral necessity.
Finally, Christians need to realize that, in the post-September 11 world, support for this sort of defense is not optional: it is an essential part of being pro-life. Just as the church has fought for the unborn, it must now demand action on behalf of the born. And the Christian statesman must press this case, keeping his oath to defend his country against all threats, foreign and domestic.