A Strange War

The semantic contest to define the conflict that began, or rather became manifest, on September 11 started immediately: Would it be crime or war?

Issue: Thanksgiving 2001 Special 9-11 Issue

The semantic contest to define the conflict that began, or rather became manifest, on September 11 started immediately: Would it be crime or war? Instinctively, Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "You can be sure that the United States government will do everything to find the perpetrators of this cowardly attack against innocent people and bring them to justice." The President, however, seemed to frame the matter differently by declaring three days later at the National Cathedral that "war has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder." Despite the President's words, the truth is that this argument continues today, albeit in muted public form. But once the focus on Afghanistan has passed, once the targets become less clearly compelling to some and diplomatically more prone to cause allied dissensus, the argument will return. Indeed, in some measure it persists in the spontaneous remarks of all those who discuss the current crisis.

You must be a subscriber of The National Interest to access this article. If you are already a subscriber, please activate your online access. Not a subscriber? Become a subscriber today!