It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. –Abraham Lincoln
Last evening, we shared a table with a young group of marines en route to SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) training in Maine. I woke up this morning feeling especially thankful to those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our nation and yet I kept thinking about the Gettysburg Address. This is because I worry whether our soldiers (and their families) deployed after 9/11, many injured or in coffins, sacrificed in vain. Did the soldiers who liberated our country from England, as well die in vain? Did the 620,000 casualties of the Civil War die in vain?
At 10 years of age, I became aware of terrorism. I watched it play out during the television broadcast of the 1972 Olympics when a terrorist group, identifying itself as “Black September”, killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team. Why were these athletes arbitrarily murdered on a world stage? I truly didn’t understand the catalyst until I was much older. Black September was a movement to avenge Palestinians' losses in Jordan. This was one battle in a continuum of battles and part of a larger war.
Based out of Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, the PLO and the PFLP had been fighting a “War of Attrition” against Israel, but were not necessarily supported by King Hussein in this quest to win back territory lost during the 6 Day War and their refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Jordan’s King tried to, “balance his interests in preserving a peace with Israel,” (Arab terrorists take Israeli hostages at the Olympics) by looking the other way, however, he eventually had to make a stand. The “Palestinians had run a state-within-a-state in Jordan headquartered in Amman. Their militias ruled the streets and imposed brutal and arbitrary discipline with impunity.” (Arab terrorists take Israeli hostages at the Olympics) Displeased with his stance, they were trying to assassinate him and control all of Jordon. King Hussein ended the Palestinians' reign with a blood bath. It was only by instituting a blood bath that he made his Palestinian problem go away.
Arafat and the PLO went to Lebanon and created a similar state-within-a-state, destabilizing the Lebanese government. Eventually, the PLO was expelled from Lebanon following Israel's 1982 invasion. Between Neville Chamberlain’s failed policy of appeasing the Nazi’s in WWII and the increasing displays of terror in the Middle East and throughout the world, we should know by now that remaining neutral and hoping others will take care of a problem are never options. One has to either eliminate the problem or make it clear not to mess with the giant. It was President Theodore Roosevelt, an environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who best understood how to maintain US sovereignty, summing it up with the words, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” Since this country’s inception, our leaders have understood that to maintain a balance of power, nations like the United States must lead from a position of strength.
In high school, one of my history teacher’s was convinced we would see acts of terrorism played out on our soil, not unlike that which fomented in the Middle East all those years ago. I was very distraught over that possibility. Though I learned to balance living my life with such existential threats, I never turned a blind eye to this reality. As predicted, in my lifetime, acts of terror have taken place on US soil, the largest being 9/11. Like it or not, we are being called upon to fight a non-conventional war against a group of people who do not believe we have a right to exist. There is no co-existence in their world view. It is our freedom and our lives that are at stake. Civilians are targets and the population needs to prepare for this reality. Our leaders need to admit this truth and take all precautions to maximize freedom and limit casualties.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful to have been born in the United States. I am thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given. And I am thankful to those who put themselves in harm’s way so that I can enjoy these blessings. I am thankful to those who I shared dinner with; en route to SERE during this holiday season. Please let their sacrifices not be in vain.