One Year After Sept. 11: What Have We Learned?

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One Year After Sept. 11

What Have We Learned?

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Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ "came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God" (Mark 1:14). The word gospel means "good news," the inspiration for the title of this magazine.

Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah, born as a human baby yet preordained to become King over the whole earth. "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder ... Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end ... from that time forward, even forever" (Isaiah 9:6-7). At His return He will be "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Revelation 19:16).

Anxious to know the time of His return to establish His Kingdom, the disciples asked Him: "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3).

Jesus then shared with His followers what came to be known as the Olivet prophecy. He first warned them against false religion and of "wars and rumors of wars," assuring them that all these things must happen before He would return. "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom," He explained. "And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (verses 7-8).

He continued with additional dire warnings of the cataclysmic events that will precede His return. Interestingly, He showed that His second coming will be timed to save the human race from annihilation: "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened" (verses 21-22). Without His second coming, humanity couldn't hope to survive. With His return, a righteous, just and benevolent government will be formed with Himself at its head. Mankind will at last have peace and harmony, security and happiness. This is the good news, the gospel message Jesus brought.

"But of that day and hour no one knows ... Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming" (verses 36, 42). Clearly we are not intended to know exactly when Christ will return. We are, however, admonished to "watch," to be spiritually alert and aware of what's going on in the world around us. World conditions today confirm the accuracy of ancient biblical prophecies that point to the imminence of Christ's return and of the establishment of God's Kingdom.

In the Old Testament book of Daniel we read that God "changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings" (Daniel 2:21). He determines the rise and fall of nations. He reveals a great deal to His people, as the rest of the verse shows: "He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding."

Prophesied rise and fall of nations

Daniel foretold the rise and fall of great empires, many of which have come to pass. In "the Revelation of Jesus Christ" given to the apostle John (Revelation 1:1), this disciple was shown events that would lead to the second coming of his Lord and Master. A great false religious system was to dominate the world and would frequently ally itself with a despotic political system. Indeed, at the time of Christ's return this system would be in its final phase—a union of 10 leaders that "will make war with the Lamb" (Revelation 17:14).

Curiously, the United States of America is missing from the major world powers on the scene in events described in Bible prophecy at the very end time. Before the final political and religious entity just mentioned dominates the world, the United States must lose its position of preeminence. Some biblical scholars have understood this for some time, but none can know exactly how or when God will bring this about.

Sept. 11 was a significant turning point in world events. Terrorism against the West did not begin on that day; Western nations have increasingly suffered at the hands of terrorist movements for several decades. But, with the attacks on New York and Washington, terrorism entered a new dimension. Instead of dozens or even hundreds, now thousands of innocent civilians could be killed in a single coordinated attack—within the borders of the United States.

The world is never to be the same again.

How has the world changed since Sept. 11? Where are we in the prophesied events that center on the rise and fall of nations?

One year after the horrific events of that day, the world's perception of the United States has undergone a discernible change. To fully comprehend this shift in global thinking, we need to go back 60 years to another seismic shift that changed the perception about America's predecessor as global superpower, the British Empire.

America's Singapore

Before World War II the British Empire was the dominant geopolitical power. In 1939 President Franklin Roosevelt reminded Britain's visiting King George VI that the empire was America's first line of defense. By the end of World War II, six years later, the situation was reversed. Many factors contributed to this, but one of the most important was the fall of Singapore, Britain's vital naval base in the Far East. It fell to the invading Japanese Feb. 15, 1942.

Why was this so significant, and what lesson is there for the United States in the light of Sept. 11?

Historian J. Morris explains the change in perception in a book on Britain's retreat from empire, Farewell the Trumpets: "The convictions of two centuries were knocked topsy-turvy by this event, and Asians were never to look upon Englishmen in quite the same way again" (1978, p. 453). Before this, the residents of Singapore had thought it "inconceivable ... that British troops might actually be beaten by Asians" (p. 450).

Since Sept. 11 there has been a similar significant change in perception around the world toward the United States. In the eyes of many the United States, previously looked on as virtually invincible, was brought down—humiliated by peoples perceived as primitive or backward. The world will never look at the United States the same way again.

A Christian pastor in West Africa put it well when I recently visited his country. I had commented on the number of pictures of Osama bin Laden available for sale there. After telling me that he was a convert from Islam and that all in his family are still Muslims, he said: "Muslims feel that America is trying to take over the world. They see Osama bin Laden as the man who will stop them."

Even in West Africa, so far from the main areas of conflict, perceptions have changed since Sept. 11.

Of course, Bin Laden certainly has seen himself in that light. It has been said that he claims to have had a vision similar to the prophet Muhammad's almost 14 centuries ago. As with Muhammad, Bin Laden's vision revealed that he would bring about the defeat of the two greatest powers on earth. For Muhammad it was the Persian and Byzantine empires. For Bin Laden it's the Soviet Union and the United States.

Bin Laden's first dream came true in 1989 when he fought with the Afghan Mujahedin in driving the Soviets out of the country after a 10-year guerrilla war. The collapse of the U.S.S.R. followed within months. Emboldened by this and by America's defeat in Somalia in 1993, Islamic fundamentalists staged the attacks on New York and Washington. They committed themselves not to stop until they defeated what they consider "the Great Satan." The demise of Osama bin Laden may only strengthen their resolve; Persia and Byzantium were defeated by Muhammad's followers only after his death.

What next for America?

If Sept. 11 was America's Singapore, then America's Suez is likely to follow. Singapore was not the end of the British Empire, any more than Sept. 11 was the end of the United States. But both altered perceptions of the two English-speaking powers.

After Singapore fell, less-advanced peoples around the world realized that Britain could be defeated. It wasn't long before the British Empire started to unravel. While the United States has no formal empire like Britain had, it does have an economic, cultural and military hegemony around the globe, and it is still perceived as the natural leader of the free world. However, since those opposed to it have been encouraged by the events of Sept. 11 and now see America as a nation that can be defeated, that perception is now less secure.

It was another 14 years before the British Empire finally collapsed. The cause was the loss of another strategic possession, the Suez Canal.

The canal was owned and operated by Britain and France, with Britain the chief shareholder in the enterprise. But the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in 1952 brought to power a radical Arab nationalist military regime that later nationalized the canal.

The British and French, together with the Israelis, invaded Egypt in 1956 to claim back the canal and overthrow the dictatorship. Militarily they were victorious, but their actions displeased Washington; President Eisenhower was concerned this might open the doors to Soviet encroachment in that part of the world.

The president told the Allies to withdraw. Fearful of Britain's increased international isolation, there was a substantial sale of sterling, the British currency, around the world. "In the normal way, Britain would have expected immediate help from the United States, a temporary loan or American co-operation in raising funds swiftly from the International Monetary Fund ... Neither was available now" (Keith Kyle, Suez, 1991, p. 464).

Afraid of the economic consequences, Britain withdrew. The world now saw clearly that the British Empire was a spent force and that the British from now on would have to tow the line of the United States. Britain's African empire, in 1956 still larger geographically than the continental United States, dissolved in the ensuing decade.

An empire on fragile ground

Could a similar setback befall the United States in our time?

It could, and it might not take 14 years.

The United States is committed to a change of regime in Iraq, in spite of opposition from most of its allies, with whom a rift is widening. Speculation abounds of an invasion of the Persian Gulf nation in the coming months.

America's military forces are by far superior to Iraq's, but what if things go wrong? The implications are profound. Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, faced with defeat, may attempt to destroy the oil wells around the Persian Gulf. While America depends on the region for 25 percent of its oil, Europeans depend on it for most of theirs.

And what if the invasion leads to the peoples of the Arab (or even greater Muslim) world turning against the United States, with popular uprisings leading to the overthrow of generally pro-American governments in such countries as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Pakistan? Other nations have much at stake in the area. Moreover, in a fight with the United States, Hussein, knowing he has nothing to lose, would likely strike against Israel with missiles—as he did in the Gulf War, trying to rally the Muslim world to his cause.

Of course, it is also quite possible that America would experience great success in a war against Iraq—we just don't know. But what about the war against the next target? What about other potential conflicts with Iran, North Korea and communist China? The same questions would have to be asked all over again. Is the struggle the United States has entered into sustainable?

There is also the question of the U.S. economy. The costly war on terror has been fought so far without tax increases. This means a huge increase in the federal-budget deficit, traditionally paid for by the issuing of U.S. Treasury bonds, mostly bought by foreign nations such as Japan. But other countries are now selling dollars in favor of euros and are not likely to buy more U.S. bonds. Additionally, some are gravely concerned about the U.S. trade deficit, the highest of any country in history.

We are rapidly approaching the point where the rest of the world, including America's allies in Western Europe and Japan, could conceivably pull the plug on America —as President Eisenhower did on the British and French—should they feel it is in their own interests to do so. European and Asian nations hold more than enough dollars to devastate the U.S. economy should they ever decide to sell.

This would not require any action by governments. A major loss of confidence in the United States, as could be the case after a military setback, could lead to massive selling of dollars across the globe. With more than half the dollars in circulation held outside the United States, the country would not be able to do anything if other nations' central banks decided not to intervene.

American withdrawal from the world

Of course, events may proceed differently but with the same end result.

In a long article in The Atlantic Monthly, "A New Grand Strategy," authors Benjamin Schwarz and Christopher Layne advocate a significant change in America's defense policies. "For more than fifty years American foreign policy has sought to prevent the emergence of other great powers—a strategy that has proved burdensome, futile, and increasingly risky. The United States will be more secure, and the world more stable, if America now chooses to pass the buck and allow other countries to take care of themselves" (January 2002, p. 36).

The authors advocate that America concentrate on defending the Americas while encouraging its allies to defend their own regions. But this would mean the United States would eventually have military rivals that in turn could lead to more-threatening conflicts than even the war on terror.

Not discussed in the article is that a withdrawal from international commitments could become more likely in the event of further terror attacks like those of Sept. 11. The pressure would be on the government to concentrate on homeland security.

More attacks seem inevitable. Osama bin Laden may have been the inspiration for the previous attacks, but his terror organization works like a franchise, a loosely knit network that offers benefits to individual cells but allows each to plan its own terror operations. The FBI estimates that more than 5,000 al-Qaeda terrorists operate in the United States.

A turning point and warning

Again, Sept. 11 was a significant turning point for America. One unexpected consequence is that America is increasingly seen as the bad guy, which most Americans find bewildering.

Those who travel to other countries may understand this better as they see how others perceive America. The image of the United States around the world is one of a degenerate society that is elitist, spoiled and corrupt at the top, rife with crime and violence at the bottom and replete with illicit sex, drugs and emotional problems throughout. While not an accurate depiction of the average citizens of heartland America, this is the image people perceive from American movies and television programs. (Sadly, it is all too true in some parts of American society.)

On a recent visit to West Africa, I was impressed and saddened by a discussion on the radio. A friend of mine there contributes to a weekly two-hour radio program called What Is Your Belief? One of the issues discussed while I was there was the ruling by a U.S. federal appeals court that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because it mentions God.

The panel on this radio program understood that the court's ruling was another anti-God decision, like earlier bans on prayer in public schools and orders to remove plaques bearing the Ten Commandments. The concern of the panelists, all brought up in the context of a world dominated by the United States, was quite simple: "If America kicks God out of its schools, then God will kick America out of His way." In their minds, the implications for the United States and for the rest of the world are enormous.

It's a simple logic and not without considerable biblical truth in the reasoning.

In establishing the ancient nation of Israel, God gave the Israelites a choice. They could obey His laws and be blessed, or disobey and suffer the inevitable consequences. You can read about this choice in Deuteronomy 28. In verse 1 God said: "Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth."

But He also told them: "... If you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God ... all these curses will come upon you and overtake you ... The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them; and you shall become troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth ... You shall be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven in multitude, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God" (verses 15, 25, 62, emphasis added).

Sept. 11 should be seen, above all, as a warning—a call to national repentance before the United States of America, no longer aided by a Higher Power, goes the way of the Twin Towers, the British Empire and the Soviet Union. GN