Sense and Nonsense: War Thoughts

Michael Chertoff wrote in the Washington Post that real war continues, whether we like it or not. A relentless enemy, financed by our own energy needs, prods us daily. The enemy is not in it for money or power, but for God, as he understands (or misunderstands) Him. Like all wars, this war is theological, but the theologians are reluctant to admit it. Theologians are for peace, even when there is no peace. This enemy does not dialogue. Allah non est Logos. Tony Blankley added that the “great divide” in public opinion is between those who “believe that the rise of radical Islam poses an existential threat to Western Civilization, and those who believe it is a nuisance, if, episodically, a very dangerous nuisance.” All other societal divisions are irrelevant.

The present century portends the long-awaited Muslim century. Even China has a “Muslim” problem. We prefer not to think about it. War shouldn’t last this long. It upsets too many of our political presuppositions. “Just a nuisance,” we console ourselves. Those who say it is a “war” are, yes, “fanatics.” The real “fanatics” are not among them but among us.

Some think the war can be analyzed solely in terms of internal American politics. Evidently Europeans are afraid to think of war at all. Indeed, with the decline of births, the war may in fact already be over on the Old Continent. Europe seems like a place where many people wish they would hurry and end the suspense. Nothing is worth doing anything about the problems Europeans face. They are weary of enjoying themselves with no corresponding obligation of protecting themselves. Americans did that. Europeans do not want to understand why they have been free.

Meantime, no doubt, al-Qaeda-type organizations are already in this country, as they are in European nations, shrewdly analyzing the best way to deliver the next blow. Even without nuclear devices, suicide bombers—capable of paralyzing several cities at once—are not lacking. They strike when they are told, not when they wish. It is a war.

As Chertoff indicates, many blows have already been prevented. But rarely do prevented blows make headlines. With no headlines, we are easily lulled into a false security. We think nothing has happened because no threat exists, not because attacks were prevented. We are little grateful to those who have done the preventing.

We can, we think, afford an irrelevant domestic politics. We do not want to know that anything serious threatens us. We have a “right” to be left alone, to “withdraw.” Our enemies, whom we are reluctant to acknowledge as such, are not geniuses, but they are not idiots either. They know their enemies, if we do not know ours.

We think everyone separates church and state. Our enemies put them together. We are slow to comprehend a religion that really intends to conquer the world. We cannot imagine a long-term historical mission lasting centuries. Others can.

Had 9/11 never happened, had it been prevented, no one could imagine that it might have occurred. But 9/11 did happen. Few can imagine that it could be forgotten or reduced to an isolated instance. But it has been so forgotten and reduced.

Isn’t this the wrong war in the wrong place in the wrong time? Doesn’t it prove that democracies are impossible in Islamic lands? It well might. But only one power is capable of fighting, that is, only one with a will to act. Muslim strategists have long understood that the real obstacle preventing their world mission is this power. It cannot be defeated with arms, but it can be defeated in the mind and will of the citizens who support it. How is such a defeat engineered? One must convince one’s enemy that he is in no danger.

  • Fr. James V. Schall

    The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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