FOR 50 YEARS, Americans assumed that World War III, if and whenever it arose, would be a cataclysmic conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Then the Cold War ended with scarcely a shot being fired, and the West enjoyed a decade of a comforting if false sense of peace and security.
Now, we are on a war footing, possibly headed into World War III, with the pluralistic, democratic nations of the world on one side, and the theocratic, hateful purveyors of terror on the other.
President Bush enters this war, one hopes, having learned from the mistake of his father only 10 years ago the failure to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq in Operation Desert Storm. Lobbing off the heads of the terrorist hydra one at a time is inadequate the beast itself must be slain.
It's often remarked that truth is the first casualty of any war, but in the United States, truth has long been held hostage to political correctness and diplomatic bows to the international community. If Washington prosecutes this war correctly, truth won't be victimized, it will be set free.
To win this war, there are four politically correct untruths that need to be discarded the sooner the better:
1. "Our enemy is international terrorism."
No war can be won without the enemy properly identified, and in this battle, the enemy is not some nebulous geopolitical entity, but a very real philosophy that governs entire nations: radical Islam.
Washington seems unwilling to make that bold pronouncement, for fear of offending millions of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims who denounce the sort of terror exhibited in last week's attacks. But the threat to American lives extends well beyond Osama bin Laden and his minions it includes Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Taliban and the governments of Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Islamic radicals despise more than just America's Israel policy. They despise its very presence in the Middle East, its power, its predominant Christianity, its democratic tradition, its culture, its equality between the sexes, its sense of individual liberties. They hate America and Americans, and make no secret about their willingness to die in order to kill as many of us as possible.
The philosophy of radical Islam endangers peace and world security every bit as much as Nazism and communism before it. We shouldn't be afraid to admit that and peaceful, law-abiding Muslims, who are libeled by the bigoted idolaters committing murder in their name, will find no reason to take offense.
2. "Racial profiling is unthinkable."
In the wake of the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, the Clinton administration approved a profiling system for the Federal Aviation Administration to use in identifying potential terrorists. The criteria for the system are secret, but the FAA has long insisted that race, religion and national origin aren't among them. They should be.
While only a tiny percentage of Arabs are America-hating suicide bombers, the America-hating suicide bombers are seemingly all Arabs. If the FAA scrutinized Arab passengers more closely, with searches and instant background checks as part of its protocol, all four of last Tuesday's hijackings could have been prevented.
It's true that innocent Arab and Arab-Americans would be unduly inconvenienced, but innocent Arab and Arab-Americans have as much to fear from terrorists as anyone else. Inconvenience seems a small price to pay for life and limb.
3. "We can't assassinate foreign leaders."
In 1976, President Ford signed an executive order, since renewed by some of his successors, barring the U.S. government from killing foreign heads of state. In principle, the rule has merit assassinations are unseemly and awful, and should be used rarely.
But protracted, deadly wars are even more unseemly and awful. If a sniper's bullet can put an end to Saddam Hussein's reign of terror more quickly and with less collateral damage than an armed invasion, it's worth considering.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, recently argued that repealing the ban on assassinations might invite America's enemies to start targeting its leaders. But they already have note the plane that dive-crashed into the Pentagon, perhaps originally aimed at the White House.
4. "Nuclear weapons are never an option."
An unwritten international rule since the end of World War II has precluded the use of nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, it was premised on the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction if one side launched the first strike, the other would reciprocate, and the entire world would be destroyed.
Today, we can be confident that our "new" enemies don't have nuclear abilities yet. If they did, all of New York City, and not just the World Trade Center, would be reduced to rubble.
In due time, however, they will. That horrific reality points all the more to the need for World War III to be won quickly and overwhelmingly. Under certain conditions, depending on strategic and humanitarian considerations, the tactical use of nuclear weapons could provide the key to such a victory.
Pundits and commentators have compared Tuesday's attacks to Pearl Harbor the start of a conflict that ended only with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
God willing, it won't come to that again, but facing the prospect of a protracted, multiple-front battle with massive casualties on all sides, Bush must have every option available to him. Weapons of mass destruction should always be the last resort, but that, of course, could be said of war itself.
This is a war America has long tried, and failed, to avoid. So long as we must fight it, we must fight it to win and not tie our own hands with political correctness or anachronistic policy.