World History is replete with the heinous acts of despotic world leaders spreading from Biblical times to today. The spread of world violence in the past has usually been geographically contained. Western Europe and the United States versus Eastern Europe, Japan against China. The instigators of past calamities usually had identities, they were known by names and nations or the national groupings they led. In the two world wars in which America was a participant, we identified our foes by their nation states such as Germany and Japan or Italy and Austria. Perhaps more importantly we could focus our ire on evil world leaders: Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo and for a while Stalin. When your country is at war, it is useful to know whom to hate. It can be liberating to defile photographs of evil leaders and to prosecute treacherous military leaders when hostilities are bought to an end; and equally important, to honor those who fought and died on the country’s behalf.
But in more modern times, when conflicts flare up seemingly without notice or warning involving motivations not so easily understood, we are more restrained in our determining of right and wrong and the nature of the injury being suffered by one at the hand of another. Because the causes of military conflicts are not as clear as they were when national troops invaded their neighbors land to expand territorially, it takes more aggressive leadership to raise armies willing to fight for principle than it did when the fight was over a nation’s territory or the territory inhabited by populations that spoke the same language, had a more peaceful ideology or even the same religion. When that is not the case, we can even turn our backs on our leaders and troops ignoring their sacrifice and in so doing tear apart our nation as we did during and after the Vietnam conflict.
Finding a consensus for war is not as easy as it became on December 7, 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, or on September 11, 2001, notwithstanding the fact that the enemy was not clearly identifiable by nationality, history or even ideology. Had the aggression not occurred in the heart of an iconic American city, it might not have been so easy to settle on a target for retaliation; identification with radical Islam simplified it. It has also been difficult to identify an enemy leader with a thirst for power and an army to accomplish it. We find ourselves opposing an army without ships, planes or heavy weapons on the march to face off with troops of opposing nations. We fight guerrilla insurgents and suicide bombers whose goal it appears is to wear us down until we stand aside and allow them not to conquer an enemy but convert fellow Arabs and other followers of Islam in the building of an Islamic State, a goal they have been after since the seventh century. Although their immediate target seems to be their fellow Muslims, no Arab leader has come forward to vigorously oppose them, and despite their being for the most part inferior in fire power and manpower to any consolidation of Arab forces, the other Arab nations appear too timid to take on the fight without America at their side to do the heavy lifting. Sadly in the eyes of the world, we too are leaderless.