Be Clear in Your Mind: The Lesson of 9-11’s Aftermath


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been reflecting about the attacks of September 11th 2001 and their aftermath, and today a final post on that subject for now. The great German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote, “No one starts a war-or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so-without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” Sadly, the leaders of nations seldom heed his sage advice.

Nations and peoples who suffer devastating attacks often respond out of deep anger and emotion, and many times. The United States did so after 9-11-2001, and while the initial response to attempt to kill Osama Bin Laden and destroy Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was considered justified by most of the world, what that war, and the subsequent war invasion of Iraq became can be best described as best ill-advised and at worst criminal. After over fourteen years of war, these wars are by no means over, and I have to use the words of T.E. Lawrence to describe the situation, “We have not reached the limit of our military commitments…”

The great Greek Historian Thucydides wrote words which pretty much describe how we got to where we are in this war without end:

“Think, too, of the great part that is played by the unpredictable in war: think of it now, before you are actually committed to war. The longer a war lasts, the more things tend to depend on accidents. Neither you nor we can see into them: we have to abide their outcome in the dark. And when people are entering upon a war they do things the wrong way round. Action comes first, and it is only when they have already suffered that they begin to think.”

Likewise, we, and I don’t just mean the former Bush administration, but many others today who think that war is always the first and best option. We forget the words of Winston Churchill who, despite his many blunders in both World Wars wrote:

“Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events…. Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.”

The imperial hubris of our actions following 9-11-2001, most notably the invasion of Iraq have opened the gates of Hell in the Middle East and it will take a lot, and not just military power to contain them. Let’s face it, as much as we don’t like to admit it, General James Mattis was right when he said, “No war is over until the enemy says it’s over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.”


What is next, I do not know; but if history teaches us anything, people, especially the leaders of nations don’t learn from it. Barbara Tuchman said it so well:

When information is relayed to policy-makers, they respond in terms of what is already inside their heads and consequently make policy less to fit the facts than to fit the notions and intentions formed out of the mental baggage that has accumulated in their minds since childhood.”


Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, national security, Political Commentary

One response to “Be Clear in Your Mind: The Lesson of 9-11’s Aftermath

  1. Russ

    Excellent points Padre.
    A summary to your summary might be that the first casualty of any war …
    is the truth.

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