We Cannot Alter the Past, but We Can Affect the Future

In this time of unmatched national tragedy, I realize that words cannot begin to express the sorrow and anger that fills our hearts. Despite this, we must make every effort to express these feelings, on behalf of the family and friends of thousands of innocent victims, and on behalf of our entire nation.

We teach our children that the United States is a beacon of hope and liberty for the world. Today they must be wondering how or why we, of all countries, could become the world's main target of such savagery.

We are a target because those teachings are true. It is because our history and the principles on which our country was founded go against the trends of human history. Before the United States, the world saw thousands of years of "might makes right," of rulers and dictatorships of all shapes and forms, and of religious intolerance and subjugation.

We have shown the world that it doesn't have to be that way. And today's tyrants and would-be tyrants cannot afford to let that example stand. But stand it will. If this giant has been sleeping as some say, it has been awakened once again and will not rest until an example has been made of those who would murder our innocent citizens and tear at the very fabric of our national existence.

We must act as a deterrent to outrageous activity when our interests are involved. And America's response in this matter should set a lasting example of what happens to those who unleash bloody attacks -- especially upon our own soil. The time for carefully measured pinprick responses to terrorist activities has passed.

Since our victory in the Cold War, we have become somewhat complacent in the notion that the most significant danger to our nation has passed. We have seen such a mentality played out in dialogues about our military budget and we have heard it in our rhetoric. We attempted to decide with precision what the chances were of a missile attack by a rogue nation or by terrorists versus a suitcase bomb versus a biological or cyber attack. This recent attack should remind us of how faulty such predictions can be.

Surely, we must now realize that as the world's number one target, we must protect our citizens from all of these possibilities. While protection can never be complete, who is going to decide which window of vulnerability we are going to allow to remain open?

The old Soviet threat has been replaced by new ones that are in many ways more dangerous and more deceitful. We have been warned about this repeatedly -- by the Hart-Rudman Commission, the Gilmore Commission, by the Bremer Commission and by the experts in numerous committee hearings. Surely, now we will listen.

It is essential that we resist the temptation to place our defense requirements in secondary position to our domestic wish list. And surely, we must reevaluate the wisdom of America contributing to the proliferation of military useful technology simply because we want the sales. It is my belief that this is what the Senate did when it recently passed the Export Administration Act.

If we place short term considerations, our desire for profit, or our desire to maintain record high surpluses above our national security, we will become much more vulnerable to the potential of experiencing more days like one we so recently endured.

Historians tell us of another Democracy that after major military success cut its military budget, turned inward, and failed to react to provocation in hopes of maintaining peace. A nation whose leaders followed the popular demand for more butter and fewer guns, and who felt that if worse came to worse, technology could bail them out and that treaties with dictators would substitute for defenses.

That country was England after World War I, and those policies contributed to causing the biggest war in the history of the world. We must not make a similar mistake.

We cannot alter the past. But we can affect the future. In the coming months, I will join my colleagues in the Senate in considering our appropriations bills. In our budget considerations, we must do everything necessary to keep this country safe. It is not only the right and necessary thing to do. It is also the real tribute we can pay to our citizens who have paid the ultimate price simply for being American.

For more information on this column and other issues, visit my web site at http://www.thompson.senate.gov.