Don't Regret Being Tough on Terrorists

Article excerpt

After the missile strike on Baghdad and the arrest of a whole crew of Middle Easterners charged in the bombing of the World Trade Center and accused of having grandiose plans for further bombings and assassinations, much of our chattering class -- the conscience of America" -- has been bemoaning steps taken to punish such abominations as proving the terrorists have "won" after all.

There is some sense in this observation -- but not much. I've been apprehensive for years about a wave of terrorism like those that have hit most major European countries arriving in the United States -- a country with porous borders and a singularly high level of civil liberties. But Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Italy were far away, apparently. The Atlantic was large. It has just grown dramatically smaller.

The commonsense part of the view that the terrorists have won is that if we're to preserve Americans' right to enter tall buildings and drive through tunnels in reasonable safety, we're going to have to substantially increase police control of all sorts. Starry-eyed Americans have absolutely no idea of the degree of police control exercised in the glamorous foreign cities they visit on luxury vacations: Paris, Rome, Madrid, Vienna. (I won't even tell you about Tokyo and Seoul, now the industrial world's two largest cities -- New York being No. 3.) But if American surveillance, arrest and trial procedures are brought up to the levels in the rest of the advanced world, will the terrorists really have won?

This is silly. Increased intrusiveness by American police is not the purpose of the terrorist -- any more than more rigorous law enforcement is the purpose of the American criminal. When an American criminal is arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned or executed -- or should he somehow succeed in reversing the Supreme Court's Miranda ruling -- he has not won, as this was hardly his purpose. His purpose was to commit a crime and get away with it.

People who view convictions and imprisonments as squalid and morally reprehensible are people who feel deeply uneasy about punishing criminals. They throw up their hands in horror at the thought of reversing the Miranda ruling, and would far rather pursue what they consider the "root causes" of crime, which is to say: poverty, racial prejudice, child abuse or whatever. And these people are equally uneasy, if not at punishing terrorists, certainly at the greatly reinforced intelligence and police procedures that might be required to apprehend them.

I should make this perfectly clear. No one -- no one -- wants to see this country in a state approaching martial law. But most Americans would rather have martial law than see their country paralyzed by terrorist bombings and assassinations, although they would much rather have neither But the notion that the imposition of martial law would be a victory for the terrorists is so bizarre as to require some investigation. …