TCS Daily

The American Goal: Limit The Sacrifice

By Duane D. Freese - October 1, 2001 12:00 AM

Sacrifice (religious ritual) (Latin sacrificium, originally "something made holy"), a ritual act in which a consecrated offering is made to a god or other spiritual being in order to establish, perpetuate, or restore a sacred bond between humanity and the divine. Offerings may consist of humans or animals (blood offerings) or fruits, crops, flowers, and wine (bloodless offerings).

As a nation, we've sacrificed enough, thank you, on the altar of fanaticism. Some 6,000 people dead or missing is a testament to the ugliness of any philosophy or religious precept that considers human sacrifice "ennobling."

Yet, in one form or another, what many commentators, from right and left, some crudely, others in more sophisticated phrasing, are saying is that Americans need to "sacrifice" more, either of their liberties or life - peace and prosperity have made American's too licentious, fat and happy.

Thus, the Rev. Jerry Falwell on fellow pastor Pat Robertson's 700 Club in the heat of commentary right after the World Trade Center was hit proclaimed the need for less liberty. In words later he expressed regret for uttering: "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, and the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.''' To which Robertson added his amen.

And Bill Maher on his ABC talk slugfest, Politically Incorrect, a week later, with a few ill chosen words, suggested that we needed to sacrifice a few more or our soldiers, sailors and pilots to fight terrorism as proof we are as brave as the terrorists. "We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away," he said. "That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."

Putting it all together The New York Times' columnist Frank Rich wrote three days after the attack: "This week's nightmare, it's now clear, has awakened us from a frivolous if not decadent decade long dream, even as it dumps us into an uncertain future we never bargained for. The dream was simple - that we could have it all without having to pay any price, and that national suffering of almost any kind could be domesticated into an experience of virtual terror akin to a theme park ride."

He went on say: "That fat, daydreaming America is gone now, way gone." And then concluded: "We have no choice now but, as a horror-struck Hamlet said after being visited by the ghost, to 'wipe away all trivial fond records' from the table of memory, and hope that our learning curve will be steep."

Learning to become what? Like our enemies and the supporters of terrorism?

In the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center, and mounting evidence that Osama bin Ladin planned it from his stronghold in Afghanistan, Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Afghanistan Taliban's supreme leader called upon his people: "Don't be cowards! I am ready to sacrifice. ... Every Muslim should be ready for holy war and take strength from their faith in Islam."

Is that what we need to learn to do, too?

Well, if Americans are anything like their forebears, they will reject both the notion that the pursuit of happiness is a sin or that grand sacrifice is the route to heaven.

Yes, Americans will, as John F. Kennedy said, "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

Today's Americans have been as willing to do that as their forebears. William Schneider, now with the Defense Science Board of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, noted in a paper in January, Americans during the Gulf War demonstrated a willingness to bear burdens by supporting sending troops to a far off foreign shore.

"History amply proves that the American people is willing to accept the burdens of leadership if presented with a compelling mission - a vision that combines ... moral imperative with practical necessity," Schneider presciently wrote.

The issue isn't the "learning curve" of the American public; it isn't that they want a better life for themselves and, yes, to get as much as they can for the least cost. It is that the case has to be made for sacrifice, and as Schneider said then, "that is the urgent task of leadership."

If there was complacency in the 1990s in the face of terrorism, it was the fault not of the people but of its leaders in making the case for measures to combat it.

As a case in point, Americans when they were sold on the importance of going into Kuwait to cast out Saddam Hussein's forces supported the cause in the face of potentially large casualties. The scene for success -- and low casualties -- was set by the Reagan administration, which had sold the public on the need for a military buildup in the 1980s to defeat Soviet totalitarianism.

The Clinton administration had the job of maintaining the U.S. edge since then. If that hasn't occurred, it's because its key people failed to make the case for it. Americans certainly moved quickly enough with money and voluntary efforts to help the victims of Sept. 11 sad massacre.

The demand that Americans make is that they not make phony sacrifices of anything, be it convenience, their incomes, their freedoms or lives, their own and others.

When some shock jock radio talk show hosts here talked about bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age without regard to the lives of innocent women and children, other Americans spoke up vociferously to promote a more focused response. And the Bush administration matched that mood avoiding precipitous military action that likely would engender only new antagonisms for a measured response aimed at actually achieving the objectives.

As U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted in his press conference on Sept. 25, the United States is not interested in revenge against people or even retaliation. The nation's interest and American's interest, he said clearly, is "self defense."

And how do you provide self-defense? Not by engaging in massed assaults and suicidal missions, but with planning, training, information and technology.

The job of government is to provide our military services and intelligence agencies sufficient funds for those purposes.

Although there has been some deterioration in recent years, the government has done a fairly good job of funding the kind of offensive weaponry the nation needs to defeat enemies in battle, although there cutbacks. But it has failed, despite spending $10 billion a year, to create the kind of intelligence network to root out plots like the one that led to the Sept. 11 assaults. And due to Clinton administration opposition, it literally has left the nation's cockpit door open by failing to put in place a shield against a long-range missile attack. That particular failing gains greater currency due to the threats made by the Taliban against its Islamic neighbor Pakistan, a nation with both nuclear weapons and a missile - not quite long-range enough, but growing close.

Congress has begun to address these shortcomings by joining with the Bush administration to establish the military and intelligence capability to meet these new threats. On Sept. 19, the Senate approved a $38 billion Pentagon package, including $1.3 billion in funding that the administration could use for national missile defense.

But the notion somehow that Americans ought to sacrifice more - to prove their mettle, or their virtue - is nonsense. They need to spend what it takes and do what is necessary to prevent unnecessary sacrifices of life and liberty, not more nor less.

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