A decade ago, I stood in the ruins of a little town called Khafji, along the Saudi-Kuwait border. I remember at the time fervently praying that no American city would ever have to look like that place. Even though the battle for Khafji was two months past, dead animals still lay in the roads and the buildings were pockmarked with bullet holes. Armed men -- both my fellow U.S. Marines and Saudi border personnel -- wandered the streets, fingers on triggers, and one tall building, overlooking the phone center from which I called home to my family in the U.S. -- leaned precariously over me.
Yesterday, Khafji came here.
Like all of you, I watched the events of September 11, 2001, unfold with a growing sense of horror. Four civilian passenger planes hijacked, and three of them intentionally rammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the fourth crashing in rural Pennsylvania. The flames, the smoke, the blood and the helplessness.
I began receiving cautionary notes about this article before I even began to write it. Now, those notes said, is not the time to express any criticism of the government of the United States. Now is not the time to talk about what might have been, or even what might be. Now is only the time to stand behind your government in whatever it chooses to do. Now is the time to bury dissent. Now is the time for unity, wherever that may lead. Now is the time for duty.
It doesn't work that way, however. A position based on principle and fact doesn't change because it becomes inconvenient, or even dangerous, to express it. Change -- _necessary_ change -- is achieved by pointing out the problem. The faint of heart cannot stomach this when it flies in the face of a juggernaut like that about to be unleashed on the world by a wounded nation. The apathetic don't care if it is expressed at any other time. There is no "good" time to say the things that people don't want to hear. But if ever there was a necessary time to tell them what they need to know, this is it.
It is not with a light heart that I write this. Somewhere beneath the rubble, someone I know or who once touched my life is no doubt gasping her last breath or has already descended into eternal sleep. In the air, on land and at sea, my former comrades in the Marine Corps await orders that may send them to their deaths in the necessary task of punishing this crime against humanity. Around the nation and the world, people mourn and I mourn with them -- but duty does not recognize any of these as justification for avoiding the awful truths. It does not recognize any obligation to ignore the facts in favor of feeling better.
The fact is that in a libertarian America, yesterday's attacks would not have happened. The fact is that in a libertarian America, yesterday's attacks couldn't have happened the way they did. To that extent, the libertarian ideal is a necessary component of the discussion that this nation will be engaging in for the foreseeable future.
In a libertarian America, our government would not have its troops stationed around the world, putting out other people's fires and making enemies of those with whom we have no legitimate argument.
A libertarian America would not cheer as its bombs rained down on passenger trains in Belgrade. It would not apathetically accept the deaths of Iraqi children due to the epidemic of cholera caused by our bombing of Baghdad's sanitary facilities, nor would it endure the spectacle of its own young men dragged down the streets of Mogadishu or the broken bodies of its Marines being carried from a barracks in Beirut.
A libertarian America would not cheer, apathetically accept, or endure these things because these things would not happen. A libertarian America would not regard its troops as an international police force. It would not treat them as human sacrifices to some misguided ideal of internationalism, and it would not pile more of their bodies on the altar when the ideal fails to materialize -- as it will every time.
And, consequently, a libertarian America would not face the constant prospect of attack at the hands of those whom it has injured in vain attempts to realize that ideal.
However, assuming that there are those who attack even if unprovoked, it is worthwhile to ask what the attacker would find confronting him in a libertarian America.
A libertarian America would not illegally disarm more than 200 of its own citizens before they boarded an aircraft, leaving them at the mercy of thugs with knives. Any airliner in a libertarian America would no doubt have on its passenger manifest several individuals exercising their inalienable Constitutional and human right to defend their lives by carrying the weapon of their choice.
A libertarian America would not rely on the false security of metal detectors and X-ray machines to preserve the lives of its citizens. It would rely on their natural capacity to preserve their own lives -- and yesterday's attackers would not even consider the possibility of being able to take over a passenger aircraft and use it as a flying bomb.
The evil will always find a way to cause harm. There is no getting around that. A libertarian America, however, would minimize the availability of such methods, and it would minimize the provocations that could be used as an excuse.
Ultimately, of course, the people responsible for the attacks of September 11 are the people who planned them and carried them out. To limit responsibility to those individuals, however, is to ignore the context in which the attacks could and did happen.
Our politicians have acted for years with impunity, citing only our "national interest," as if any legitimate interest could be served by the intentional killing of civilians simply because those civilians have been designated "the enemy" by a vote of Congress. Yesterday's attacks prove that the "national interest" we've been pursuing, and the supposed impunity with which we have pursued it, are illusory.
We watched as those politicians were hustled away to "safe houses," the better to immunize themselves from the consequences of their own actions of years and decades past. No one has asked why Dennis Hastert or Diane Feinstein were entitled to the special protection denied the thousands of people in Manhattan and Washington who were even then paying the price -- in blood -- of an imperial foreign policy crafted by poltroons who hide themselves in bunkers when the bill collector knocks on the door.
Now, they emerge from their hiding places, and they wail and gnash their teeth, vowing revenge and demanding that we surrender even more of our freedoms in order to avoid more of what they themselves brought upon us in the first place. They regard the blood of September 11 not as a horrible payment for their past errors, but as ink with which to write new checks to the order of their power and drawn on the account of our lives and freedoms.
The choice is clear: we can have a libertarian America, or we can have September 11 and all that it implies, over and over again. It's one or the other -- and the price of the wrong decision is more broken bodies, more rubble, more pain and less freedom.