September 20, 2001
The Yom Kippur War
According to the Hebrew calendar, this Yom Kippur marks the 28th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. It's an unrounded number, the kind of date that might otherwise go unnoticed if it weren't for the fact that America has just entered its own version of that war.
Then, on Oct. 6, Syrian troops and tanks rolled down from the Golan Heights as Egyptian tanks blasted across the Suez Canal. The massive attack caught Israel by surprise, and before the army and its commanders could claim victory, more than 2,500 Israeli soldiers were dead.
Israel managed to turn back its attackers and take the battle to them, threatening Damascus and Cairo. But the shock of near-defeat terrified the nation. The leaders who were responsible for letting the country lower its guard were called to account by an investigative commission. An entire government fell in shame.
The post-Six-Day-War feeling of invincibility vanished, and the country never regained its swagger. Though they were ultimately crushed, Israel's enemies saw their defeat as a triumph. They had shattered Israel's myth of impenetrability, and its morale.
There is much that is different now, with us, but much of this sounds familiar. America too has been sleeping. Our country has the expertise to reconstruct the life of a hijacker down to his last e-mail. What we lacked was the ability, and in some cases the good sense, to track him and his cohorts for the last three years.
But the biggest difference between Yom Kippur then and now is the nature of the war itself. Israel knew then, as it does now, whom to counterattack. Its reactions are swift because its enemies are clear.
As of this writing, we are still waiting to pinpoint these enemies, to help them fulfill their delusions of martyrdom. If the recent history of Israel is any indication, our reactions will provoke their reactions. The war will go on, felt and fought on every front from Kabul to San Diego to Los Angeles to Kuala Lumpur.
Most of the casualties of the Yom Kippur War were soldiers, but that, along with everything else, has changed. Even if our soldiers bravely take the battle to the terrorist lairs, American civilians will remain targets. Last week the battle's front line was our Eastern seaboard.
As our writers in this issue make clear, the war America has declared will test our armed forces, our ability to formulate daring new energy and diplomatic policies; our commitment to civil liberties and a civil society, and our capacity for prolonged suffering. If there's any question about that last point, we need only look to Israel, and the war it has been fighting since long before Yom Kippur, 1973.