Facing Our Destiny
by Doug McQuiston
Some dates are fulcrums between past and future. In the last century, it was December 7, 1941—Pearl Harbor. In this century, it will be September 11, 2001. The enemies then marked their wings with the Rising Sun. We knew who they were, and where they came from. Our enemies in the skies over the World Trade Center hid behind the wings of our own airplanes to try to destroy us. They foolishly thought that by attacking buildings, even ones so symbolic as the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, they could destroy America itself. They believed we were weak and soft, paralyzed by our own prosperity.
They do not know, even now, how wrong they were.
America, after all, is not buildings. It is not the Pentagon, or even the White House or the Capitol. It is an idea. That idea lives in the heart of every American, no matter where they were born or what color their skin is. Terrorists, no matter how many buildings they knock down, cannot kill it.
But the fight to vanquish this foe will be, as the president has called it, "a long, twilight struggle." This enemy is shielded by its cowardice, hiding behind their women and children. They don’t have the guts to identify themselves by insignia. But they can be beaten. I believe the attacks of Sept. 11 succeeded far more malevolently than Bin Laden and his minions ever expected. From that very success will come the doom that awaits them. They changed the rules and have hardened our resolve by the sheer magnitude of their attack.
As this is written, only a week has passed. The nation is still mired in remembrance, recovery and grief. As you read this, it is November. I have little doubt that the war declared on us by forces of terror and evil on September 11 will have by now turned on them. I also have little doubt that it will have only just begun.
The title of this piece is from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt:
"We are face to face with our destiny and we must meet it with a high and resolute courage."
He also understood another essentially American trait—the hard, molten rage that sharpens into a flame no evil can withstand when we are wronged:
"The American people are slow to wrath, but when their
wrath is once kindled, it burns like a consuming flame."
He knew other nations or people of the world may not always love us, that some will even hate us. He knew vigilance would be required to defend ourselves from those in the latter category, just as it is needed now. But will we have the stomach for the long march? Will our generation answer with the steeled heart and bloodthirsty persistence of our fathers or grandfathers after Pearl Harbor? Only time will tell.
When our President asks us to "be patient," he knows what he is talking about. Although you’d never know it by movies like "Pearl Harbor," it took the United States over five months after Dec. 7, 1941, before it launched the Doolittle Raids over Tokyo. The first real "victory" of American forces in the Pacific, the Battle of Midway, did not start until 164 days after Pearl Harbor. After Midway, even though Japan never again won a single victory, and even though every single remaining battle in the Pacific was a crushing defeat of the Japanese Army, it took another three- and-a-half years before it surrendered.
This war will be unlike that one or any other. We may not even know of many of the battles. The soldiers of this war will be covert forces: B-2 Stealth bombers and faceless National Security Agency operatives sitting at computer terminals in McLean, Va. The battles we do hear about will be ugly. Damage to noncombatants and American casualties will be inevitable. Worse than that, our enemy will not go quietly. There may inevitably be other heartbreaking attacks on our soil, our buildings and our people. This is a war into which we have all been drafted. And we will see it live on the cable news networks. Will we have the resolve and courage to fight until it is over?
What can we as lawyers do? We can do what we are sworn to: do our jobs, help our clients with their legal problems, get and stay active in our communities, and uphold the Constitution. We can support our country and our armed forces by our words and deeds whenever possible. If we see the war taking too great a toll on our freedoms, we can speak out to protect those freedoms. If we see bigotry or hatred toward Americans who are of Middle Eastern descent, we can work to stop it. Because no matter how long and dark this war may be, if our freedoms are eroded, or Muslim Americans are subjected to hatred as collateral damage, then the terrorists win.
The stakes are high—as high or higher than at any other time in our nation’s history. Failure is not an option. We did not start this fight, but we cannot now shrink from it. We must finish it, and finish it with a ferocity and finality the world may find surprising. America is threatened by this enemy as by no other. But we cannot let the enemy use our rage to destroy our freedoms. We will win if we narrow our anger into that hot blue flame Theodore Roosevelt spoke of 100 years ago, and if we direct that flame with relentless resolve on the perpetrators and sponsors of terror.
If he hasn’t already, our enemy will soon see that flame in the afterburners of our B-52s and B-2s, or from the muzzle of a sniper rifle. If he looks closely, he will also see it in our eyes. The American idea will survive. There is no other choice.