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An Autumn of War: What America Learned from September 11 and the War on Terrorismby Victor Davis Hanson
(The destruction of the World Trade Center; the attack on the Pentagon; the explosion of four jet airliners; President Bush's promises of a worldwide war on terror; dispatch of American carriers to the Indian Ocean; initial criticism of proposed American response both at home and abroad)
During the three-week lull between September 11 and our military response in early October, it was not clear when and if America would strike back. Despite our president's immediate and firm assurance that we would battle terrorists across the globe for years to come, critics both here and abroad immediately questioned the morality of our tactics in bombing the terrorist enclaves in Afghanistan and the military feasibility of finding the al-Qaeda camps--and then destroying them without either killing scores of innocent civilians or causing such disruption as to precipitate wide-scale starvation and disease.
In addition, we did not know exactly the number of our own dead, as casualties on September 11 were at first feared to be in the tens of thousands, before generally being reduced to a round figure of between seven thousand and three thousand killed--a total by January 2002 that would be generally recognized as around three thousand fatalities. Both friends in Europe and neutrals and enemies in the Middle East demanded "proof" that bin Laden had, in fact, masterminded the attacks. Yet throughout these dark days, the Taliban and al-Qaeda alike promised annihilation for any Americans foolish enough to enter Afghanistan and raised the specter of further terrorist attacks here and abroad against the United States.
In the numbing aftermath of September 11, Americans were presented with a daily variety of myths--military, cultural, and political--designed to temper our military response. I was chiefly worried that we were awash in a sea of false knowledge concerning everything from the military history of Afghanistan, the lessons of Vietnam, misinformation about the Northern Alliance, half-truths about the effectiveness of our air forces, the purportedly hopeless struggle against a "new" form of terror, the reasons for al-Qaeda's assault, and the nature of American foreign policy in the Middle East.
September was perhaps the most hectic and depressing month in our nation's history. In the following nine essays, composed in those times of chaos and uncertainty, I employed occasional parody, posed counterfactual scenarios, and drew on classical history--as well as the careers of General Sherman and Winston Churchill, the 2,500-year Western military tradition, the heroism of the New York policemen and firefighters, and our struggle against the Japanese during World War II--all to argue that we had no choice but to counterattack long and hard in Afghanistan.
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