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Though some will find it odd to find a commentary about the recent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil at a comic-book website, as fans of ROB HANES ADVENTURES know, the series takes place in the “real world,” where global events often form the backdrop for stories, requiring research and continuing attention to international events and news. With this in mind, below is my personal view on these events...

Brave New World
“When the Cold War ended, everyone thought the world was finally safe for democracy... Guess again.” -- Rob Hanes poster

Like many, I was shocked, saddened, then angered by this attack. The animals who perpetrated this atrocity have no respect for human life, as shown by their desperate and vain-glorious willingness to die for their cause while mass murdering innocent civilians. The murderers, and those who directed and funded them, are ignorant, fanatical extremists who have defiled and disgraced their people and their religion to rationalize pathetic and ludicrous political ends. 

Believe me, there's nothing more I'd rather see than U.S. air power carpet-bombing the filthy hole where spoiled little rich-boy Osama bin Laden and his stooges are cowering, followed by American military forces leading an international coalition into Afghanistan in a surgical strike to extract the coward, whisk him out of the country, and bring him to justice in the States. And if he dies in the process instead, I'd have no problem seeing his broken, bloodied corpse shown repeatedly on CNN while people in streets all over America dance sang, "God is good...." (The drawing I produced in response to the attacks also reflects this crude revenge fantasy, portraying simple, poetic frontier justice, as often found in fantasy-adventure comics and action films.) 

But who am I kidding? It's a brave new world and a new millennium. It's no longer as simple as that, and I hope that our leaders have the courage and imagination to do what needs to be done. 

If nothing else, these events teach us how important it is for America to stay engaged in the world. While the attacks were not the result of the policies of unilaterism and isolationism that were being pursued by the nation until September 11, they underscore the importance of actively promoting stability and democracy around the world, and being a responsible member of the "community of nations." In an age when the world has been drawn closer together by instant communications, interconnected economies, and 24-hour-a-day television news programs, the old cop-out, "It's not in America's best interest," just no longer holds water. Ensuring that terrorism remains limited -- and, better yet, preventing regions from becoming breeding grounds for such vermin -- demands our being present anywhere there is unrest and instability. We must constantly keep our ears to the ground, our friends and allies close at hand, and our enemies even closer. For as we have seen, remaining disengaged and isolationist is NOT in the nation's best interest. 

As the comic-book cliche goes, "With great power comes great responsibility." The U.S. loves to crow that it is the last superpower left in the world. If it expects the world to be a safe place -- and a place where all people can live in peace, to pursue a livelihood free of fear and oppression, so that they may put food on the table for their families and create opportunities to better themselves and their children -- the U.S. must assume a true leadership role in the world, and show a willingness to invest in this vision for all people, rather than pay lip-service to it. 

As I was writing this, air strikes began against Afghanistan. While support for the action in the U.S. and many Western nations has been high in the initial hours, my initial feelings were disappointment and sadness. Bombing and bringing to justice those who are responsible for these crimes will be easy. However, achieving long-term peace and security--not just for the U.S., but the entire world--will require vision, imagination and investment.

On the face of it, of course, some response was necessary. It's clear that these monsters have no overt demands or respect for modern civilization, believe in their moral righteousness even as they rationalize their evil by twisting and befouling the tenets of Islam, and have no respect for individual human rights, which is a basic tenet of modern democratic values. Their goal is to strike fear in us and to disrupt our way of life. (More tangibly and incredulously, their aim is to create an extremist pan-Muslim nation-state by toppling the existing Arab nations, which will only be possible when the U.S. is driven from the region.) Like Hitler and other aspiring tyrants before them, they believe Americans do not possess the will to fight a protracted war, and believe we will simply pack our bags and submit to fear. They are the worse kind of xenophobes and despots, who oppose individual thought and expression, fear imagination, beauty, creativity and progress, and seek instead to destroy all that they cannot control or understand.

No, it is only force that these terrorists -- these CRIMINALS -- will respect and make them take notice. And not the impersonal kind that involves unmanned missile strikes or bombing from 20,000 feet. If we truly want to make an impression, we need professional soldiers on the ground, ready to bring it to them. 

Yet in the days before the bombings, I wondered whether military action exclusively--even coupled with good intelligence and police work--would be enough to bring a bout greater security and peace. Seeing the senseless, endless cycle of violence passed on from generation to generation around the world--the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the obvious example, of course, though there are plenty of other examples in the world to choose from, like Northern Ireland--made me wonder whether rejecting a military solution and pursuing other methods to bring the organizers of this crime to justice and to stamp out terrorism might be the better part of valor. Not only would this path be a relief to our allies (particularly those in the Arab world), such a decision would demonstrate vision, imagination and inspiration -- and leadership -- for the rest of the world. New ways to redress international conflicts are emerging, through the U.N. and the World Court. These avenues need to be explored.

But a course of action has now been taken. In the short term, it makes us feel better that we are responding. But unless they have an opportunity to actually apprehend bin Laden and some of his high profile lieutenants, I am not sure what the goal may be, outside of destabilizing a regime, the Talibans, that provides a hiding place for an international criminal. Not being part of George W. Bush's inner circle, I can only hope that they have strategized their entire game plan. And I mean this by projecting beyond simply bringing down the Taliban and rooting out terrorists. 

It has been said that President Bush has found "new focus" and, perhaps even his destiny, in this challenge. 

However, despite words to the contrary that this is a "new kind of war," we seem to be very much approaching this challenge in quaint 20th century terms. As we have done with past adversaries, the U.S. administration and media have personalized and demonized this conflict, making bin Laden the latest pinup boy for international outlawism: at one point, Bush used a folksy manner (bordering on glib) to say bin Laden belonged on a "Wanted: Dead or Alive" poster as in the days of the Old West. Showing a lack of sensitivity (and understanding of history), he also at one point unfortunately used the term "crusade" to characterize the coming conflict against terrorism, completely overlooking the heavy baggage that comes with this word, particularly in the Arab world, where support was crucial.

If this is indeed a new kind of war, then why, as this suggests, are are fighting it the old way? In the absence of a visible enemy that we can attack, we have started a war against bin Laden's associates, the Taliban. And we have done so in a classic manner -- by heavy bombing that is intended to "soften" the enemy for further diplomatic action or a military ground assault. However, history suggests this will only make bin Laden, the Taliban, and many in the Muslim world (particularly the extremists) more defiant and, perhaps, more deadly. 

I was surprised at how quickly we forced the Taliban into a corner by giving them an ultimatum with little wiggle room. The Afghans are proud, hardy and battle-hardened, and have been regularly bringing major powers and would-be conquerers -- including Great Britain (twice) and Russia -- to its knees since at least the 17th century. Was there serious belief that this ultimatium might frighten a country already ravaged by war into giving up their benefactor and fellow religious zealot? 

Terrorism is indeed a new kind of war that needs new kinds of actions. First, bin Laden should have been immediately deglamorized -- referring to him as a "terrorist" gives him and his vague and somewhat lunatic ambitions legitimacy; and it further enlarges his myth among the disenfranchised in the Middle East. Instead, bin Laden should have been branded a CRIMINAL. The case against him and his network quickly made and, if military action was taken, to be done under the cloak of bringing a MURDERER to justice. 

Furthermore, whatever the plan, it must look beyond the arrest or death of bin Laden and his lieutenants. Like it or not, serious nation-building must be part of the long-range vision of ending terrorism.

The roots of this virulent form of anti-West and anti-American sentiment in the Middle East are the lack of freedom, hope and opportunity that exists for most people in the region, rooted in its colonial past. Despite the riches that oil has brought to this part of the world, it has benefited few people -- for the most part, these nations remain politically repressive and undeveloped. More often than not, they consist of monarchies, oligarchies and outright dictatorships -- and these include even our "friends" like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. As a result, a large portion of their populations remain dispossessed, living in poverty and despair, and have not benefited from the region's oil wealth. How else to explain the celebrations that have been observed in the streets in nations like Pakistan, Egypt and the Palistinians in the aftermath of these mass murders -- celebrations that have embarrassed the governments in these countries, even as the governments officially condemn the attacks, out of fear of alienating the American people.

Furthermore, to maintain stability and power (and to give them an air of legitimacy), these governments, including our "friends,” tolerate and even support a certain amount of anti-Americanism (often with tacit U.S. support). This keeps the disenfranchised and ignorant from recognizing that their own authoritarian governments are largely to blame for their poor lot in life. And such distractions allow these governments to suppress the emergence of moderate opposition parties or any other alternative to the established powers-that-be. As a result, religious fundamentalism has flourished because it is almost the only option remaining for many. It provides a sense of empowerment, but also creates a breeding ground for hate and terrorism. It brings order to their lives by telling them that life in this world is terrible because their next life will be better. 

And the U.S. tolerates this because of its dependence on the region's major cash cow: oil. 

The U.S. must revisit its policies, particularly in tolerating human rights abuses and political oppression by its Middle East “friends.” If we wish to truly stabilize the region and ensure security, we need to push these countries into becoming real democracies. This means providing for the basic welfare of their people, developing a larger middle class, allowing them to share the benefits of oil revenue, providing educational and employment opportunities, instituting political reforms, and genuinely working to rid their societies of terrorist extremists both through social works and basic law enforcement. This also means reconciling Islam with modernity, which will require a major cultural and religious shift, accompanied by better education. And to gain leverage in pursuing these goals, the U.S. and developed world need to steadily reduce their dependence on oil, through the development of alternative fuel sources, a goal too long ignored in the U.S. because of artificially-maintained low prices of oil. (Admittedly a tall order, considering that the President is a Texas oilman who has not been too subtle about letting his cronies essentially run energy policy in the country.) 

If the U.S. seriously wishes to crush terrorism and push Muslim fundamentalist extremism to the fringes, it must help improve economic opportunities for the people in these regions. If we want these nations and their people to enter the so-called "community of nations," they must have something to live for and, yes, something to lose. 

Bush recently remarked that the U.S. is "not in the business of nation-building." That is not true. Given the disaster of the Versailles Treaty, which concluded World War I and planted the seeds for World War II, the U.S. embarked on the Marshall Plan -- an act of generosity (and, yes, national self-interest) unmatched in the history of the world, modern or otherwise. We acted similarly in rebuilding Japan, and supported the founding of the United Nations. These acts provided centers of stability and security in these regions. If we do, in fact, push the Taliban out of power, we must commit to the country's long-term stability and help them build a productive society. Then we must extend this policy to other nations if we wish to seriously remove the kind of desperate environment that breeds hate and terrorism. 

I do hope the actions in Afghanistan are successful. And if the government feels that military action is unavoidable, then our leaders need to be committed to doing the job right and seeing it to the end, through ground action, strong police work and enforcement, and policies that promote the rebuilding, enfranchisement and democritization of the region. 

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I am proud to be an American. I am the son of immigrants and, having traveled to the land of my parents' birth, I know how fortunate I am to be a U.S. citizen. Because of this trip, I have seen first-hand masses of people lined outside a U.S. embassy waiting hours, days and years to gain entry into this country, while I, as a U.S. citizen, was able to show my passport and proudly walk onto American soil overseas. I unabashedly believe that I live on the greatest and most generous nation in the world's history. While I recognize the country has sometimes acted unjustly in its history, it has the strength, courage and foundation -- codified in its Constitution -- to give its people the freedom to speak out about these wrongs and demand its government right them. 

Like many people, my pride and confidence in the strength of this nation were emboldened by the events of September 11. While the American people support military action, there is genuine regret and sadness that it is necessary. And, having learned from the internment of the Japanese during World War II and the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s, there has been a strong stand among civic and community leaders against unfairly stereotyping Muslims or people of Middle Eastern descent for these attacks. I see no such tolerance or repricocity of caring among our enemies, even as they hypocritically complain about civilian deaths in their own country -- lives that meant nothing to them, and for whom they did not provide basic human rights or sustenance, until they found them useful to advance their hollow political agenda.

While I do not consider myself a "hawk," I take great pride in the American military. I have a particular lifelong admiration of what we achieved as a nation in World War II, often called "The Good War." I am awed by the fortitude and sacrifice of the citizens' army that crossed two oceans to fight in lands they had never seen before to defend them, then went on to generously rebuild them. (In the days after the attacks, I drew strange comfort from HBO's mini-series, Band of Brothers, the graphic, gritty true experiences of American G.I.'s in World War II because, like the stories of heroism and sacrificed that emerged in the days following September 11, it reassured me that, when roused by a common purpose, Americans show they truly and profoundly value and believe in the principles and ideals that allow them to be free.) A new generation of Americans have finally realized that democracy comes with a price and is worth fighting for.

But, of course, the greatest pride comes in the actions of the men and women who literally gave up their lives in the minutes after the attack to save others, and the millions of people who have come forward around the country to aid the victims and their families, and the people of New York City, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania. We Americans have not had to go begging to other nations for logistical or financial help. No nation has needed had to come forward to help us. Americans take care of their own. 


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