TCS Daily


Lessons of a Murder

By Gordon Cucullu - May 19, 2004 12:00 AM

Last week we witnessed the brutal murder of Nick Berg -- a medieval beheading videotaped and posted to the Internet for the world to see. Meanwhile in Gaza terrorists decapitated a Israeli Defense Force soldier and waved the head like a grisly trophy. The Islamic fascists have reached a new low. Or so it seems.

But they have murdered, even on film before -- journalist Danny Pearl and a brave Italian, Fabrizio Quattrocchi ('I'll show you how an Italian dies!'). They deliberately target and assassinate women and children -- in the most recent case a pregnant woman and her four toddlers were ambushed and killed with close up shots in the head. With a final shot into her abdomen they made certain that the unborn baby she carried died too.

We watch it, listen to the screams, and mumble some words. Then we go about our business as if nothing happened, effectively ignoring the barbarity of the act, the threat implicit in it, and most of all, the message that the terrorists are sending: Beware, Infidel, your head will be cut from your body if we have the chance! Your children will be murdered, your women defiled, your culture destroyed.

Each time it seems as if the latest particularly heinous act by terrorists will be sufficient to focus American attention. But we somehow seem to rationalize or minimize the awfulness. The Blame America Firsters and the Moral Equivocators jump in and try to diminish the threat by offering up something the US has done to offset the terrorist horror. So that when we have an admittedly disgusting but strategically irrelevant and highly localized episode like the prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib prison it becomes a vehicle for an explosion of mass hysteria and national self-recrimination.

How much has to happen, how many have to die before we realize the challenge we face? How much brutality do we have to see before we confirm the morally bereft nature of the enemy who has vowed to destroy us? The September 11 attack was thought to be a wake up call. Have we forgotten the burning buildings, terrified people falling a hundred stories rather than burn to death?


These are not rhetorical questions. We have been slammed by attack after attack, by murder most foul, and by abuse of such a heinous nature that most Americans do not seem to be able or willing to come to terms with it. Now, once again with Nick Berg's murder, we see the true, disgusting nature of the enemy.

But we cannot really see the faces of the enemy because they hide behind head scarves and ski masks. They are bold and brave in attacking the helpless. Bring a bound prisoner before them or civilians or better yet women and children and they wave their Kalashnikov rifles menacingly and carry out unspeakable horrors, all done in the name of a god whose doctrine they have twisted into a satanic force.

They have chased us from countries before, these faceless hate-mongers. We fled Lebanon in 1983 when a suicide bomber killed more than 240 Marines. We pulled out of Somalia, reeling in shock and horror because we lost 18 Rangers and Delta Force operators despite the fact that they had won a great victory. Dragging American dead through the streets of Mogadishu was sufficiently shocking to American leaders to destroy our moral courage. It reinforced the al Qaeda thugs conviction that if they make the war brutal enough and sufficiently grotesque to repel American television viewers that they will once again turn defeat into victory.

We cannot permit this to happen. Each time we fight terrorists only to run away they come back at us with more force. Each time we respond with tokenism -- missiles fired into desert camps, protestations before the UN -- they raise the ante. They have assassinated our diplomats, kidnapped innocents, attacked military ships and installations, blown up embassies, murdered civilians, mutilated corpses and committed acts of brutality that the civilized world abhors. They hijacked airliners and tried to kill tens of thousands with one strike. They fill trucks with explosives and poison gas with the intention of inflicting mass murder.

Withdrawal or diminution of our efforts will not win them over to our side. Appeasement, discussion or mediation will not bring them to a peace table. They have no interest in such things. For the Islamic fundamentalist the world is extraordinarily binary: victory over the infidel or martyrdom. Either is an acceptable, indeed a desirable alternative for a Moslem terrorist.

If we blanch in Iraq, back down before the horror of a helpless American citizen having his head severed and waved menacingly into a camera, then expect that the terror will ratchet up to new levels of severity. We know that the only thing that has prevented dirty bomb, chemical, biological or nuclear attack is that we have been relentlessly on the offense against the terrorists. If they are running they cannot mount a strong attack.

We must keep the pressure up on them. Al Qaeda ranks have been thinned by relentless US and coalition attrition. The financial spigots have tightened (which is a reason that the Saudis are now targeted), and available hiding places have shrunk. We have identified the leaders, especially Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the operational leader of al Qaeda and self-confessed knife wielder in the Berg murder is in Iraq.

America did not ask for this war regardless of what the hand-wringing anti-war crowd tries to say. These ideological forces have been simmering for centuries and have come to a boil in the past few decades. This is a war for the ages not of the moment. It is a clash of cultures over historical time.

Why has it fallen upon us to bear the principal burden of the war? Because we are who we are. America, despite a wide array of weaknesses and faults, offers the best opportunity for the people of the world who wish to live in freedom. Everything that America stands for: freedom of worship, speech, assembly; freedom for women and minorities; economic opportunity, open education and unfettered self-expression, all of these are despised and rejected by the Islamo-fascists.

We must stay the course no matter where it takes us and what it costs. And frankly -- with my usual caveat about the tragedy of any lost soldier -- the cost in money and lives has been minimal for a war of this nature. We claim to be a superpower and a shining beacon on a hill. The terrorists doubt that. They challenge our culture. They maim and mutilate, murder and explode trying to drag us down into the dark world they inhabit. We must continue the fight; and we must win. That is the lesson of the Nick Berg murder. Whoever Nick Berg was, to the terrorists he was one of us; to the terrorists Nick Berg was all of us.

Gordon Cucullu is a former Green Beret lieutenant colonel and writer. His book, Separated at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin, will be released by Simon & Schuster this fall. He recently wrote for TCS about Eliminating Smoldering Coals.


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