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Countering the Lynch Mob

As Pearl Harbor emerges as the metaphor of choice to describe September 11th’s horrendous sequence of events, screaming for World War III may be the worst response to this tragedy.

December 7th and September 11th share obvious parallels, as well as crucial disparities. As Thomas Friedman notes in one of the first New York Times editorial to appear after the attacks, Pearl Harbor pitted America against a world superpower. Then, December 7th tipped the scales after a protracted, yearlong Great Debate between intervention and isolation. We are now the superpower, and terrorism notwithstanding, we are still the world1s only superpower. The U.S. entry into World War II meant a fight at least as much against the consistent and certain record of Nazi aggression as it did against a devastating surprise attack. The U.S. manufacture of World War III will occur without any debate, against a protean enemy yet with the odds stacked in our favor.

However misguided, enemies of the U.S. see us as the equivalent of Nazi Germany. Only the most extreme fundamentalist could defend any justification for the recent terrorism. But only the most rabid patriot would deny that this country has made mistakes ? some of which seem, in retrospect, entirely consistent with Nazi beliefs. When one anti-globalization website compares the collapse of the World Trade Centers to the burning of the German Reichstag in 1933, we have an ethical obligation to heed that warning. The comparison reminds us of what the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center cannot become. The Nazi Party used the highly visible destruction of its Parliament to build its military machine and centralization of power upon the ruins of civil liberties and basic human rights. History has taught us nothing if we succumb to that example.

George W. Bush is no Hitler and comparing any political party to Nazism reeks of demagoguery. But the emerging lynch mob mentality toward financially impoverished Arab and Muslim nations is no more suited to democracy than crashing a jetliner into a skyscraper or the wholesale slaughter of civilians.

Before mounting an all-out military assault costing the lives of even more men, women and children, we must consider one of the most powerful weapons that we have at our disposal. It carries great sacrifice, but costs relatively little in terms of lives. It is a non-exclusive option, and in the long term, it will truly disable terrorist adversaries. The United States must demand an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The United States must demand that Israel completely evacuate all settlements in these areas, and a return to all pre-1967 borders. Taking terrorism by surprise, such an initiative would splinter whatever support a small band of extremists now have.

In Hebrew, Tikkun Olam means the just repair of the world. Bombing civilians abroad is neither just nor certainly repairing. If we are truly the leaders of a civilized world, then we must demonstrate this leadership now by seizing upon an opportunity, instead of wreaking more havoc. Amid the passions of their respective eras, there were plenty of justifications for slavery, lynchings, genocide, internments and holocausts ? nuclear and otherwise. We grew to regret those actions, at least in part. Let us not give in to the instant gratification of a vengeful war meant to destroy convenient Muslim and Arab scapegoats. Like past mistakes made amid passion and unreason, we can only grow to regret such self-righteousness later. CP

Steven Alan Carr is author of Hollywood and Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History up to World War II (New York: Cambridge UP, 2001).

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