Focusing on war's fuzzy front line

Daniel Schorr, news analyst for National Public Radio and a weekly columnist for the Monitor, delivered the second annual memorial address honoring Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal correspondent who was murdered in Pakistan two years ago. Excerpts of his address, given at UCLA on Feb. 4, follow.

In Ronald Reagan's time, America confronted what he called "The Evil Empire." In President Bush's time, the Evil Empire is no more, but there is something that Mr. Bush calls "the Axis of Evil." We knew the geographic location of the Evil Empire - the Soviet Union, China - and the subjects of the evil empire (called satellites).

The headquarters of today's terrorist threat we don't know. The great disaster of Sept. 11, 2001, unlike Pearl Harbor, left no return address. President Bush believed that terrorist headquarters was in Iraq, and so, in his "war on terrorism," he invaded, looking for Al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction. He didn't find either.

Indeed, it was only after the occupation that Al Qaeda made its presence known, part of a holy war against a non-Islamic secular power that dared violate sacred Islamic soil. It was like the war of the Mujahideen against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan two decades earlier.

The cold war was my war - that is to say I was one of the journalists who covered it. A generation later, the war against Islamic terror was Danny Pearl's war - that is to say he tried to learn its mystique and its methods so that we would better understand the menace we faced as people of the West.

Danny's assignment was more dangerous than mine because Islamic jihad, in the end, turned out to be more menacing than the cold war. Oh, yes, a half century ago there was much talk of an ideological conflict that might lead to nuclear annihilation. But we also believed in the nuclear stalemate: that our leaders, however much they growled and shook their fists, would not invite mutual destruction.

At times the nuclear menace seemed too close for comfort - as in 1962 when President Kennedy confronted Nikita Khrushchev, who had tried to sneak nuclear missiles into Cuba. And yet - again in retrospect - we felt that, despite some shivery feelings at the time, Khrushchev and Kennedy would not plunge the world into flames.

For a journalist seeking to learn and to understand, the challenge then was not like the challenge today. I was often tailed by the KGB. My telephone was monitored. In 1957 I was briefly arrested and charged with photographing forbidden objects. It was the KGB's way of telling me it was time to leave the country. But I never felt physically imperiled, in part because of an unusual relationship I had with Khrushchev, which was a sort of metaphor for East-West relations in the cold war.

In the early post-Stalin days in 1955, I opened the CBS-TV bureau in Moscow. I arrived just in time for the 20th Communist Party Congress, where Khrushchev made his famous secret speech denouncing Stalin. It was a tense time as Khrushchev, opposed by hard-liners in the Politburo, sought to loosen the shackles of Stalinism without losing control of his people and the Soviet satellites. There were demonstrations in Poland for "bread and freedom," and, in Hungary, a full-scale anti-Communist revolt. Adding crisis to crisis, France, Britain, and Israel started a war to seize control of the Suez Canal from Egypt, a Soviet client.

There were rumors that Khrushchev had summoned the party's Central Committee for an emergency session, but no Soviet official would confirm that such a meeting was in progress or in prospect.

In October of that year, Khrushchev had returned from an unusually long vacation in the Crimea. I had a bantering relationship with the earthy, ebullient Khrushchev, and, meeting him at a diplomatic reception, I tried to find out whether the Central Committee was in session.

After a long discussion of his vacation in the Crimea, I asked whether I could go to the Black Sea for a vacation, "pozhalyista!"("If you please.") But, I said, CBS wouldn't let me take a vacation because of rumors of an important Central Committee meeting. He nodded gravely, discerning my purpose. He asked when I wanted to go on vacation. "Tomorrow."

For how long? "Two weeks."

"And so let me understand. You are afraid that during that time you might miss a meeting of our Central Committee?"


He leaned toward me, and said confidentially, "Gospodin Schorr, you can go on your vacation."

"You mean there is no meeting?"

"Don't worry. If absolutely necessary, we will have the meeting without you."

As it turned out, when I could read the minutes 40 years later, the Central Committee did meet, did order the sending of tanks to crush the Hungarian uprising, did decide to threaten to send forces to Egypt unless Anglo-French-Israeli forces withdrew from the Sinai. This seemed to us one of the most dangerous moments of the cold war. And yet, in 1989, when the Berlin Wall that I'd seen being erected finally came down, and with it, the nasty East German regime and the whole Soviet structure, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said to me: "Just wait! One of these days you will be nostalgic for the cold war."

In time I came to understand what he meant. From 1946, when Churchill coined the phrase "Iron Curtain," resistance to Communist designs had served as the organizing principle for the US. Great undertakings, from the federal highway system to the Defense Education Act to the landing on the moon were all justified as necessary for defense against the Communist world.

Then the cold war ended, leaving America to face a different kind of war. Today, America fights against "enemy combatants," a loose phrase that permits the compromising of civil liberties. It is hard to apply American military power when one doesn't know where to apply it. A generally successful operation in Afghanistan rooted out Al Qaeda training camps. Looking for somewhere else to apply force of arms, the Bush administration chose Iraq on the questionable assumption that Saddam Hussein was cooperating with Al Qaeda terrorists.

Iraq became, not a unifying principle, but a disorganizing one. Fought without United Nations or major European support, the war has left a system of alliances and collective security built over half a century in tatters.

America has yet to find a unifying principle for the age of terror. It will have to repair alliances and relations with the UN. It will have to overcome the widespread feeling that we are all involved in a clash of civilizations. America will have to find itself before it can lead this new kind of war against this new kind of enemy.

And, in this time of terror, journalists like Danny Pearl will be on the front line. That's because there is no front line.

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