The truth: The war against terror may extend through many generations.
There has been more emphasis than usual of late on what our government and its officials tell us and how accurate and honest their statements might be.
The main bone of contention is our instigation of the war in Iraq and the reasons we went there. By now, it is clear that our intelligence was faulty, that there is great doubt about the "weapons of mass destruction" premise on which we based our assault and whether some people in key positions either shaded or dodged the truth. Public doubts and resentment understandably rise with each new loss of life, Americans, allies and people in such places as Afghanistan and Iraq.
There can be, however, no doubt about the accuracy and sincerity involved in a recent declaration by Tom Ridge, our homeland security secretary. What he said was grim, sobering and unsettling, but there is every evidence he was telling the truth as he and many others see it. The threats in our future are impossible to ignore.
During a recent visit to Berlin, Ridge praised German authorities' (belated) cooperation in the fight against global terrorism. "We knew it would not be won in days, or in years," Ridge told the German Council on Foreign Relations, "and perhaps, we have to admit, might not even be won in our lifetimes."
Ridge or any other public official cannot be more blunt and candid. Perhaps it is a "prepare for the worst and hope for the best" scenario, but at least all the cards are on the table.
We have had adequate warnings that even in our homeland, which was spared so often in the past, we are vulnerable to attacks. America has seen its people and its programs assaulted in other lands and there is no evidence this will change very soon. While there is good reason to question and challenge the judgment that sent us on the attack in the Middle East, the fact is we are going to be fighting enemies overseas and at home for a long, long while.
Nations find it hard to wipe out actions and activists who can wreak havoc "on the cheap." They do not require major military units or hordes of equipment such as tanks, planes and the like to cause trouble. They are renegades who can acquire certain types of ordnance, mesmerize people into suicidal behavior and then select targets of opportunity, with the more innocents slaughtered the better, it seems. America is envied and disliked by enough people that we and our system seem to invite trouble.
Terrorists needn't go after major military targets, as illustrated by their destruction of the twin towers in New York. They will eagerly hit such spots, including our Pentagon, if they can. But they need no mass movements to muster formal forces. We are popular targets, to say the least.
We must create and maintain the best possible intelligence operations, be prepared to hit an enemy hard before it can lash out and then realize there is no perfect solution to the problem.
If the public wants facts and the truth, facts and the truth are just what it gets from comments like those of Tom Ridge: that the war on terrorism might not be won "in our lifetimes."
Or, sadly, the lifetimes of those who follow us.