The Friend, 28 September 2001
Robin Theurkauf’s husband died in the attack on the World Trade Center. Even as she grieves, she has issued this call to look beyond military options.
My husband, Tom Theurkauf lost his life in the World Trade Center disaster. We all direct our grief in different ways, this is mine.
I offer these thoughts both as a new widow and mother of three fatherless boys as well as a scholar of international law and politics.
We used to know what war was. It was the opposite of peace. Wars took place between states each with armies in uniforms and a hierarchical command structure. States went to war over territory or more recently over ideology. It is a legal status. One must declare it. At war’s conclusion, we come to a peace agreement and return to a non-war condition.
This seems different. The enemy stays in the shadows even as they live among us, organised in loosely connected cells. No state has declared war against us, at least in the familiar way. The action was designed to spread fear and hate and so we are not entirely sure what would be required to end this conflict.
As we assemble a military platform in the Persian Gulf it is worth considering the fact that while political scientists know very few things with any confidence, there is substantial consensus on at least one relevant point. While this attack was intended to provoke, responding in kind will only escalate the violence. Further, if we succumb to the understandable impulse to injure as we have been injured and in the process create even newer widows and fatherless children, perhaps we will deserve what we get.
Some have made the analogy to the attack on Pearl Harbour and in at least one way it is appropriate. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, thousands of young men volunteered to join the military. I can only imagine the success of radical Islam’s recruiters after our bombs fall on their heads.
If not ‘war’, what words should we use? I think a better name is ‘international crime’. Restating the problems refocuses the solution.
In the short term, the first priority should be to hunt down and arrest the criminals with the goal of achieving justice, not revenge. This is a task left not to the military but to investigative police forces, who can prepare for a trial.
Ordinary Americans also can take steps to fight back against this evil. We can combat fear and hate in part by reaching out to Muslims in our communities and by patronising Arab businesses. This show of solidarity will in part thwart these criminals’ purpose of creating division in American communities.
In the long term, eradicating terrorism will require the elimination not of a group of people but rather of a set of ideas. Paradoxically, eliminating the people will reinforce and further legitimise the ideas. Terrorist impulses ferment in cultures of poverty, oppression and ignorance. The elimination of those conditions and the active promotion of a universal respect for human rights must become a national security priority.
Finally, the United States as a matter of policy must recognise and accept our vulnerability. In today’s hyper-militarised environment, no state can ensure security within its borders without the cooperation of others.
The Bush administration’s unilateralism has been revealed to be hollow. Rather than infringe on our sovereignty, international institutions enhance our ability to perform the functions of national government, including the ability to fight international crime.
Bombing Afghanistan today will not prevent tomorrow’s tragedy. We must look beyond military options for long term solutions.
Robin Therkauf is a lecturer in the political science department at Yale University. Professor Robin Therkauf lost her husband Tom in the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September. She has spoken out against war and for justice, not vengeance.