Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Heart and the Head on 9-11

My heart takes a back seat to my head in almost all decisions. That does not mean that I never make mistakes because I think everything through correctly. By extension, my analysis of situations that I have no direct control over is primarily mental. This shapes my opinions.

I know plenty of people for whom this is not the case. Their initial reaction is emotional. I probably cannot appreciate the benefits of the emotionally centered person. But in reflecting on 9-11, I may have uncovered a difference between the two types.

My analysis of 9-11 was the following. Islamic terrorists wish to target our unarmed, untrained civilians; we must send armed, trained troops to kill them. We must discover their plots in every way possible and prevent further slaughter. Even though we supplied weapons to Afgani fighters, so that they could kick the Russians out, the Afganis still considered us the enemy. I view that as evidence that Islamic terrorists cannot be appeased. Bin Laden clearly said that he was inspired by our weakness in withdrawing from Lebanon--he was not enraged by our strength.

This reason does not fade with time. I do not see that any of these assumptions have been challenged over time.

Emotions fade with time. We burn with love for a high school crush. Later our emotions are wholly different.

We cry on 9-11 for the slaughter of thousands. But we cannot cry every day like that, for every person who was slaughtered. Our heart does not have the capacity.

I view the current political retreat in the face of terrorism to result from a fading of the emotions of those who are prone to act primarily on emotion. When the emotion fades, it is hard to find the reason to continue onward. Those who react emotionally construct an elaborate rationalization which is consistent with their changing emotions.

Some may have said on 9-12, "We must kill this enemy. If we must invade countries, then we will. If we must torture these men who slaughtered thousands, then we will.* But we cannot allow this to happen again next week or next month or next year."

But, with a year of no further attacks . . . and two years . . . and eight years, this person's emotions have subsided.

Now this person says, "We must change our behavior so that the enemy will soften their approach. We must respect the sovereignty of countries who would plot our destruction, up until the day they take hostile action. We must treat the inhuman beast in a humane fashion, even if this means losing lives. Nothing has happened in the past years and that is a sign that nothing will happen."

After eight years, what I view as my reasoned response remains.

It happened. It can happen again. They hate us. Our attempts at concession show the weakness that inspires them. Our security was lax before 9-11. We needed new rules. We still need new rules.

My emotions have faded since 9-11. The images and the testimony of those who lost sons and daughters and mothers and fathers bring some of that emotion back. Fading emotions cannot sustain the resolve of a people--even to protect themselves--only enduring reason can.

*Note that even high-level decision makers in Congress did not object when they were privately briefed on torture. They understood that protecting our sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers was worth harming the killers.

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