Review by Paul Tuns Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism William J. Bennett (Doubleday, $29.95, 170 pages)William Bennett, who was once described as the “guardian angel of the honour code through his books on virtue,” released last year a book on the need to confront – militarily if necessary – the threat of terrorism. Although written from a hawkish American point of view, the book is valuable because it defends the good of Western civilization against the nihilistic destruction of what has been accurately termed “Islamofascism.”
Western civilization is not perfect but, to paraphrase Churchill’s comment about democracy, it is the best we’ve got. Bennett knows this – he has been a critic of the great stains upon our civilization’s fabric: slavery and abortion – but says we have a moral duty to defend ourselves, for the sake of our lives and our liberty. It is not just Western civilization that is at stake, but our very survival.
While Bennett goes out of his way to note that not all Muslims are terrorists, a sizeable, influential and capable segment is, and they view Western civilization as not just corrupt, but something that must be destroyed. The fact is, none of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the World Trade Centre or in the field in Pennsylvania did anything to harm the terrorist hijackers. But the attackers cared little for the lives of the innocent. The terror, they believed, was God’s work. Bennett says we can try to convince them of the error of their ways, but the West must be prepared to confront them militarily. (It should be noted that Western civilization is not bound by geography, race or religion, but it is an idea that can be embraced by anyone, anywhere.)
Bennett was pleased with the spontaneous display of righteous anger after Sept. 11, 2001. It was, he says, a rare moment of “moral clarity.” The attacks were an outrage with which there can be no compromise. It cannot be explained away – poverty, resentment, the American alliance with Israel, etc. are not central to this conflict of civilizational values and Bennett warns against the relativist temptation of equating our virtues with the values of the enemy (a strong, yet accurate word, according to Bennett). “Subtly or crudely,” he writes, “nonjudgementalism often serves as a mask for what can be called judgementalism of another and much worse kind. Summoning us to some all-embracing indulgence of the views of others, however wrong or evil, it encourages us, subtly or crudely, to deprecate the good when it happens to be ours – our own values, our own instincts, our convictions, our own civilization.”
Bennett puts a human face on this conflict. One such face is that of Todd Beamer, a passenger on the United Airlines flight that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. “Todd Beamer,” Bennett writes, “had a telephone line open to a GTE operator in Chicago. He made her promise to contact his wife, then she heard him recite the Lord’s prayer, and then came the defining words: ‘Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.'” Bennett comments: “That is why we fight.”
Indeed, after providing a series of such harrowing and heart-wrenching stories of the victims and heroes of 9-11, Bennett repeatedly reminds the reader, “That is why we fight.”
We need such reminding because, as Bennett notes, our schools have not taught our children properly. They have abandoned truth, masculinity and military virtues such as honour and vigilance and replaced them with relativism and molly-coddling. Our children “are robbed of the oldest and most necessary wisdom of the race, which is that some things are worth fighting, and dying, for.”