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What Next?

Whitley Strieber posted this Journal on September 12, 2001: September 11, 2001 was the worst day of all of our lives. In that awful sense, it brought us together in a new way. The images that haunt me--the doomed woman stretched to her limit, leaning out of a window above the flames; the dark shadow that seems to cover the second plane as it races across the skyline filled with people just like me; the dust-caked firemen, their eyes dead with fatigue, flashing with determination; and the cellphones, those voices calling to us from the very edge of mystery and death. All of those things, and so much more.

So much more.

But now, as it becomes clear that we have lost on the order of twelve thousand or more Americans in these attacks, and must now face months or years of economic disruption, now we must ask ourselves, what next?

The model of the world that we have been using since the Nuremberg trials marked the end of World War II is the so-called "criminal model," wherein the guilty are found, tried and punished. Under the criminal model, we investigate international crimes, sifting through the evidence until we find who is actually guilty of instigation. Then we take that person or persons to trial and incarcerate or execute them. If we are unable to do this, we carry out carefully restrained military strikes to punish, and hopefully kill, the guilty parties.

There are twelve thousand Americans who lie now at our feet, their burned and brutalized bodies testament to the effectiveness of this approach.

We need a new approach, and a new way of thinking about that approach. The military model looks at a problem like this in a completely different way. First and most important, it sees the problem as finite, and begins by visualizing, in the end, that there will be final victory and beyond it, safety. The criminal model simply punishes the miscreant, and waits for the next crime. The criminal model seeks, essentially, to teach the wrongdoer that his acts are going to endanger him.

It doesn't work in society. New criminals commit new crimes every day, and they always will. Because we know it doesn't work, we isolate criminals in prisons.

But we cannot isolate entire societies, and we cannot make them our friends. A British diplomat I knew years ago once said to me, 'you Americans always want to be liked. It's a dangerous desire, in this world, and it weakens you.'

He was right on all counts, and it is time and past time that we worried about being liked.

The military model is not pretty. But it will keep the mothers and the daughters, the fathers and the sons safe from these monstrous crimes that keep being committed against us.

If we do not change to the military model, and right now, I will tell you what the next terrorist act will be, because it's perfectly clear: it will involve the detonation of a nuclear weapon somewhere, probably in Washington. Why am I so certain of this? Because many tons of fissionable enriched uranium and plutonium have gone missing on this planet over the past twenty years, and that missing material has only one purpose: it is used in the making of bombs.

Why do I think this. ran a story months ago about this problem. To read that story, click here. I fear this so much because I had a prophetic vision of it that I included in my book The Secret School. I would give my life, happily, for my prophecy to be wrong.

We are in a race right now, a race against the next great terrorist act, which I fear is going to be nuclear.

When will it come? Who will do it?

The first question matters a great deal. The second one is the wrong kind of a question to ask, just as the basic question of the criminal model--who is guilty--is not useful in the context of war.

We must accept that we are in a war, and it is a war of survival. We must get beyond statements like the one the president made last night, "the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts."

That is not where we need to begin. We need to begin by recognizing who the enemy is, and gaining victory over that enemy. In this case, the enemy is Iraq, Iran, Lybia, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and the militant elements among the Palestinians.

However, we do not need to declare war on them all. Rather, we need to take our cue from the brilliant Roman general Belisarius, who used the indirect approach to sweep the barbarians out of Italy and reclaim it for the empire.

The indirect approach targets the key points of resistance and potential action, and strikes before they can. We don't need to find the guilty parties, but rather their friends and supporters. Osama bin Laden today congratulated the bombers. The government of Afghanistan welcomes him and supports him. We need to accept that, in a war, you do your best to identify your enemy, and then you act. It cannot be a matter of sending in a few cruise missiles the way we did the last time. It must become impossible for the Afghanistan of the Taliban to function in the world at all.

We need, at the same time, to batten down the hatches here at home. Air marshals must be returned to service, so that terrorists can never know if there will be professional armed resistance when they try to take over a plane. Cockpit doors must be bulletproof and bomb proof. Right now, they're made of paperboard and can be kicked down by a wobbly drunk.

We need to change the way we gather intelligence. Our officers must penetrate deep into the enemy's world and his life, just as spies did in the old days. We need new spies, people willing to fall in love with the enemy in the peculiar way of spies, so that all of his secrets will become our own.

Right now, we rely on a vast system of electronic intercepts to alert us to terrorist acts. This system has been telling us since the State Department warning of September 7 that something was up. But it has told us nothing we REALLY need to know, like who trained the murderers, on which flight simulators did they learn to pilot jets, or which airport personnel belong to the enemy. For that, we need the old fashioned spy, and we must re-create such a force within the intelligence community.

It is too easy to defeat electronic surveillance. All it takes is a sheet of paper, a pen and a postage stamp. Those simple weapons will drop you right off America's radar.

The most important thing we can do right now, even more important than attacking the enemy and his declared supporters, is to locate that missing nuclear material. We must do this, and now. If necessary, we must go into suspect countries and look for it.

We must do everything we can to detect such material entering our beautiful modern civilization. What if Paris falls victim, or Venice or Tokyo? Or what if a nuclear hostage situation develops, and we are asked to surrender our sovereignty or see Los Angeles or New York or London laid waste?

This must not be allowed to happen. We of the developed world are the hope of mankind, and we must have the courage and the honesty to re-envision ourselves as what we are: the best educated part of the breed, with a great deal of wealth, love and essential knowledge to bring to the rest of the species. If this planet is to be saved, we will save it. If human lives are to continue to unfold in happiness, it is because of the effort of those of us in the countries that are orderly and functional and just, and the sweat of our brows, and I don't here mean only first-world countries. Economic development is not the only measure of will or courage or ability, and the able everywhere must participate.

We must recognize that we the willing are the crucial edge of mankind, whose labor brings every human being, no matter how destitute, how sick or how lost to help, the spark of promise that he needs to advance his own humanity. Civilization is about human happiness, and all that is worthwhile in our lives--our children, our loves, the getting of wisdom--rests first in the feeling of happiness and security that is founded in a just state.

Right now, because we have come to imagine that our enemies are in some way part of our civilization, and thus accessible to our internal model of crime and punishment, we have taken a terrible blow, and are on notice that more and more terrible ones are coming.

On behalf of happiness, America and what is good in this world, we must again become soldiers, and again fight the just war.

Where do we go? The military model could not make the answer more clear. We go where our enemy is beloved, for there we will find the tender part of him, that is his true home.

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