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The buck stops with us

By George F. Smith
web posted October 29, 2001

"We were deaf, dumb, and blind," said former deputy FBI director Oliver Revell, regarding the 9-11 attacks. "We were asleep at the switch."

The "we" he refers to is American intelligence, but he eventually broadens its scope to include us, the always-gullible American people. We shouldn't be surprised. Whenever government fails spectacularly and has no place to hide, they spread the blame. Who better to spread it to than those who hired them?

When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after take-off in 1986, killing all seven astronauts aboard, we heard NASA spokesmen telling us the tragedy was everyone's fault for having unrealistic expectations. That was easier than admitting they lacked the guts to resist political pressure and cancel a flawed launch. And most of us bought it because to do otherwise would mean accepting the unconscionable about people at the top.

We need to get something straight. Their rhetoric and behavior aside, government officials work for us. We put them in office. We pay them. If we don't like the job they're doing, we remove them from office. It's our responsibility to ensure they do what we elected them to do.

We've heard it said that the President is the most powerful man on earth. But the President answers to us.

To a large extent we are responsible for their actions, though politicians agree only when it lets them off the hook.

Normally, the government has little or no stake in its actions. It supports itself by coercion and propaganda, not performance.  Unlike the voluntary sector of society, government reaps rewards for its failures, creating more bureaucracies, allocating more funding, and growing more statist. It does this, of course, because we let it. Observe its actions since 9-11.

As a corollary of their failure, politicians condemn discussions of causality as unpatriotic. We can talk about unity and the lust for revenge, but don't point fingers, don't explore root causes. Don't disturb the eagle while it's sharpening its claws.

In trying to silence the blame-America-first crowd, we've kept needed discussions of cause-and-effect from public discourse. If we can be suckered into suspending rational analysis, we're aiding bin Laden with his next attack.

When we view events uncritically, we tend to accept with minimal debate whatever remedies the government suggests. They pull billions from a hat and hand it over to the airlines. Sounds okay to us -- this is an emergency, who cares about the laws of the market? They dust off the idea of a national ID card, as a way of separating terrorists from super-patriots like Larry Ellison. Hey, good idea. There's even talk of reviving slavery Lincoln-style with a military draft. Gosh, we need soldiers, don't we? All the while we hear a chorus telling us our survival will mean giving up more freedom. Yeah, we mutter, shaking our heads in regret, we've been drunk on the stuff.

Fortunately, a few pundits are now crossing the line without forfeiting their patriotism. In pointing out the existence of causality in foreign affairs, columnist Doug Bandow writes: "[T]errorism must be understood as an inevitable consequence of global intervention." Almost all terrorist attacks have been retaliations for hated American intervention. "Nothing justifies terrorism," he says. "But it is not hard to imagine people who might wish America ill."

"The point is not that America deserves to be attacked. The point is that it will be attacked." Our intelligence services are telling us the same thing.

To make retaliation easier for our enemy, the State Department "has no plans to stop issuing visas to flight-school applicants from Middle Eastern countries that are state sponsors of terrorism," according to commentator Paul Craig Roberts. Fourteen Syrian men came over on flight-school visas in early October.

As we fight terrorists and bad government, we need to give full support to our military heroes overseas doing the dirty work. Their role is clear: without them we have no country.

Right now, our politicians are more of a threat to them than the Taliban, as shown by their neurotic concern over fighting during Ramadan and whether the messages on the bombs we drop are offending their constituents. And more recently by Sen. Joe Biden's suggestion that they're "high-tech bullies."

We, as citizens, are responsible for protecting our way of life. We can't delegate that job to anyone, least of all the government.

George Smith is full-time freelance writer with a special interest in liberty issues and screenwriting. His articles have appeared on Ether Zone, and in the Gwinnett Daily Post, Writer's Yearbook, Creative Loafing, and Goal Magazine. He has a web site for screenwriters and other writers at

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