When Would the Terrorists Win?

by Doug Payton

The phrase popped up in the days after September 11, 2001, and became instantly trite. "If we don't X, then the terrorists have won", where X was replaced with things like: 

"get back to our normal lives" 
"resume broadcasting 'Saturday Night Live'" 
"rebuild the Twin Towers" 

The phrase became the brunt of late night talk show monologues. Pretty soon you couldn't take it seriously, because so many silly things had been tagged to it. But then consider this: What value of X would actually make that statement the most true? 

In order to answer that question, you have to figure out what the terrorists are trying to do? Now, trying to get into their collective heads and determine their specific motives may be an exercise for a psychologist, not me, but I can think of a value for X that is at least generally true of terrorists in general. 

X = "respond, because we're afraid" 

Basically, if terrorists have instilled terror into us, to the point that either we do what they want us to do or we don't do what they don't want us to do, they've won the battle, if not the war. The point of terrorism is to instill so much fear that we relent to their demands, either actively or passively. 

And so, consider the following quotes from the left side of the aisle:

Do Americans believe that taking out Saddam would really make life here safer? Will we really be able to stop living in fear? Or do enough Americans believe, as I do, that terrorists will retaliate with an attack on us--perhaps in Chicago, Dallas or Los Angeles--the minute a bomb destroys the first mosque? -- Commentary by Juan Andrade of The United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, 10/11/2002
Iraq is going to retaliate as soon as they are attacked. And terrorists are going to hit the U.S. more and more. I believe that military targets in the U.S. are in jeopardy, so the Hampton Roads area and DC are likely targets. I think Hussein is a scary man, but there are other ways to take him out than war. -- Cordle, a blogger, 2/27/2003
Leave Terrorists alone, they might strike back -- chalk writing on sidewalk at a student war protest at Stanford University, 3/5/2003, as reported by Chrislin's blog (who, by way of disclaimer, doesn't agree with the sentiments expressed)
Let's be clear: Mr Chirac does not endorse Baghdad, and he finds Saddam's regime as despicable as do Bush and Blair. But he fears the American hawks will ignite Muslim fundamentalism worldwide. The fear of domestic conflagration and terrorism are also ever-present: there are 6 million French Muslims to take into account. -- Marc Roche in The Guardian, 3/14/2003

What do all these sentiments have in common? Fear. Don't go to war, because the terrorists or the madmen might hurt us back. Just let Saddam continue to torture his own people. Don't respond to al Qaeda attacks. Hussein will change...he just needs more time (12 years surely isn't enough), and if we push too hard he might push back. If we don't bother Osama, maybe he'll leave us alone. 

Listen to the protesters, the bloggers, the pundits. When they get past their caricatures of Bush as Hitler and their mantras, listen to them. Why do they insist on doing the same thing that has been done for years without success? Why do they suggest that war never solved anything, when it plainly has (ask a thankful Kuwaiti or a Frenchman born after 1945 whose native language isn't German)? Why do they safely protest against Bush, when Hussein has committed (actual) atrocities against his own people and yet they say nothing? 

War is an awful option. "War is hell", no doubt about it. But the only reason Saddam is feeding crumbs to weapons inspectors is because of the threat of war. The only reason he left Kuwait in his "blood for oil" war was because of the force of war. And the only way he'll "comply" with UN resolutions is if he is physically forced to. The only reason some small semblance of freedom returned to Afghanistan is because war forced out the Taliban, who never had any intention of stopping bin Laden from his murderous ways. 

The United States has responded to terrorists with full knowledge of the possible consequences, but was not afraid to act in its own interest. Ask that aforementioned Kuwaiti or Frenchman, or perhaps a woman in Afghanistan who can now go to school, what it means when we're not afraid of terrorists or madmen. 

If you're afraid of terrorists, they've beaten you. If this nation becomes terrorized because we don't have the will to act, the bin Ladens and Husseins of the world have us right where they want us. 

If we don't respond, because we're afraid, then the terrorists have won.

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