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Response to Terrorism: Military Vengeance or Positive Actions?

Response to Terrorism: Military Vengeance or Positive Actions?

The issues raised by September 11 are less about constitutional war powers than about war wisdom. Under national and international law the President has legal authority to react in self-defense against this invasion of our territory. Even the most vigorous critics of executive power concede that under the Constitution the President is empowered, in Madison’s words, to “repel sudden attacks.” One might quibble over whether “repelling” an attack, which in the eighteenth century would have been a land or naval invasion by a foreign state, extends in this era to a military response outside the United States to an attack by unknown forces, but the principle supporting the legitimacy of an immediate response of a military nature seems implicit in the original understanding of executive power. Moreover, Congress has expressly acknowledged that executive power and, in addition, has specifically authorized the use of “all necessary and appropriate force” against the persons and organizations that conducted the attack and those states that aided or harbored the terrorists. Likewise, under international law the United States has the right of self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter, and NATO members have invoked Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, declaring the attack as an “attack against them all,” so that each of them is obligated “to take such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

The legal authority of the President to wage his “War on Terrorism” is therefore clear. The wisdom of doing so is more complex. No doubt some military response will be launched…

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…American people better understand the extent and basis of the anger against our country, as well as extending public exposure to the expression of compassion that is common to all religious traditions.

Finally, while we affirm our support for Israel, we need to effectively disassociate the United States from support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The fundamental changes in policy that I am recommending of course cannot happen quickly, and can only be brought about if accompanied by tangible benefits in terms of cooperation from members of the antiterrorism coalition. Reciprocity is the protection against responding, and appearing to respond, to the attack itself. In the meantime let us hope that military vengeance does not preclude the kinds of positive responses that will actually protect the physical security of the country.

National Security vs. the Right to Privacy

When the Challenger space shuttle blew up. Students gathered in the student lounge for hours, watching in disbelief. In a way, it was more existential than September 11. We watched the same ten seconds of the shuttle explosion over and over again, without there being a trace of the Shuttle anywhere in the world. That day was a technological disaster, a mechanical disaster that Americans, in our inimical fashion, could quickly fix.

What students watched on September 11, 2001 was a social and political disaster. Watching the events unfold was a lot less existential and a lot more practical because it is a disaster that will have a far greater impact on their world-and they, in turn, can affect that impact.

In the next months and years, we as a society will rethink everything from privacy to business organizations to architecture. Businesses will look at Morgan Stanley’s experience-occupying much of the World Trade Center-and think again about the virtues of further decentralization of operations. Just as architecture in the 1970s seemed to respond to the turmoil of the 1960s (consider the fortress-like administration building at the University of Michigan or the FBI building in Washington), we may see architecture change in the future. A…

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…nder siege” just because there was armed military in the city. For those of who have lived in places through sustained periods of terrorism-like Paris during a bit of the 1980s or long stretches of time in Jerusalem-this seems an overstatement.

A democratic, civil society like ours-with rich procedural protections and robust civil rights-can survive a lot. There is only one thing a civil society cannot survive. In the words of the political philosopher John Rawls “If we are to remain free and equal citizens, we cannot afford a general retreat into private life.” Not on September 11, not tomorrow, not ever.

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