It’s Not World War III

I agree with those who liken this to World War III,” Georgia’s Rep. Phil Gingrey said recently. One person he was agreeing with is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who early on used the World War III analogy to describe the U.S. efforts against Islamic extremism, fascism, terror or whatever term suits your outrage.

But calling the struggle “World War III” gives the extremists far more recognition than they deserve. For the most part, they are nomads who live in caves without cell phone service. They are fugitives from another age, made deadly only by their ignorance and hatreds.

In World War I, the major combatants were the most powerful nations in the world, both economically and militarily. Among them they controlled two-thirds of the globe’s land masses.

That was also the case in World War II. Nazi Germany had spent six years building a military machine that the Allies could not match until well into the war when U.S. industrial capacity finally caught up and then overwhelmed. Japan had been invading neighboring countries since 1931 and had invariably been victorious. At the time the United States entered the war in December 1941, Germany controlled most of Europe and Japan was clearly dominant in Asia.

The current conflict is of a different nature, of course. There is no military threat to the U.S., comparable to the World Wars. The threat, serious as it is, comes from a relatively small number of dedicated zealots, who control no nation or army, and whose capacity for waging their terrorist strikes has been greatly diminished by U.S. actions since the attacks on the World Trade Center.

David Kilcallen, a senior advisor to the U.S. State Department, has written that the Muslim terrorists are more comparable to the European anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1880 to 1914, the anarchists actually killed fewer than 2,000 people with their bombs and assassinations, but among those 2,000 were 20 heads of state, including U.S. President William McKinley in 1901.

Then on June 28, 1914, a Serbian anarchist assassinated the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary and his wife. Austria demanded revenge on the small nation of Serbia and the Russian czar, in what is surely the most foolish foreign policy decision in history, declared war on Austria because Serbia was a Slav nation.

The various alliances fell into place, with Germany coming in on Austria Hungary’s side, and England and France on the side of Russia. The result was 20 million killed in a pointless war. Victims included the czar, who lost his throne to a communist revolution. The Russians also suffered the most deaths in that war and then in World War II.

The anarchists posed no great threat except to random individuals, and Serbia was a weak nation that also posed no threat. But the reaction by the more powerful nations brought on history’s bloodiest war, and brought down several governments.

The United States has successfully survived and thrived through 50 years in which enemies such as the Soviet Union and Communist China had nuclear weapons on a far greater scale than Iran and North Korea ever will. India, Pakistan, Israel and others have also had access to nuclear weapons, as will other nations. This is not a new threat, nor is it cause to let fear rule over reason.

Look at how fear has virtually bankrupted the great U.S. airline industry, and wiped out the retirement funds of thousands of Americans, whose insecurity will also mean insecurity in the communities where they live, and will become another drain on the government.

America has a nuclear arsenal that can destroy any nation, and given the necessity, it can destroy Islamic fanaticism. But it should not come to that. The United States needs to be as patient as it was during the long Cold War, and realize that the terrorists clearly are in retreat. Their leadership has been decimated, probably including Osama bin Laden. Like those of Hitler, his remains may never be found.

Muhammad, the founder of Islam, believed in living to the fullest in this world. He had many wives. His 21st century followers must learn to love life more than death, and recognize that life serves their goals, their faith and their families more than senseless martyrdom.

Millard Grimes is publisher emeritus of Georgia Trend. Portions of this column were published in Grimes’ weekly newspaper, The Harris County Journal.

Categories: Guest Commentary