The enormity of the mortal sins committed this Tuesday is so great it may take time to sink in. Thousands of innocents murdered; the home soils of America attacked for the first time in 189 years (Hawaii was not a state when Pearl Harbor occurred); the end, perhaps, of a relatively carefree phase of American history, if war or recession or both come, and if people feel the downtowns of big cities fearing for their safety.

This could be a dark day for faith, too. If Muslim fanatics are behind the day's atrocities - and of course that is not known, but Islamic fanaticism is the only prominent terrorist movement that preaches suicide - Islam may suffer a huge diminution in the eyes of the world. Moderate Muslims endlessly work to convince the world that the majority of the faith's believers are peaceloving and only a small group of fanatics favor violence. That argument will mean little next the images of the innocent being slaughtered by those who, if the words of monotheism mean anything, cannot be worshippers of anyone other than Satan.

Soon, perhaps as soon as within hours, America must ask itself what the ethics of its response will be - and how to act decisively without committing more sins.

Assuming it can be determined who is to blame - and that may not be immediately known - either a domestic terrorist organization, a foreign terrorist organization or a nation will be behind these events. What should the response be?

If domestic terrorism
This prospect can't be dismissed. The Oklahoma City bombing was immediately assumed to be the work of Islamic terrorists, and turned out to be red-blooded white male evil that began at home. Oklahoma City wasn't a suicide attack, however. That all these events were suicide strikes points very strongly at a foreign Islamic fanatic group. And if so may God help the many moderate American Muslims who are just as outraged as all other Americans are this week.

If it was international terrorism
The problem will be knowing what to hit. When it was fairly quickly established that Osama bin Laden's organization was behind the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the United States barraged his training camp in Afghanistan with cruise missiles. He and most of his followers had already left when the missiles arrived - a fact that United States suspected when the missiles were launched. Presumably if a foreign terrorist group is behind the horror, its leaders will already have left all known haunts.

So do we bomb areas of Afghanistan, the Sudan or other states where they only might be, risking harm to the innocent? Do we land Marines in such nations and search whole areas? Yet there must be some decisive response. After the first World Trade Center bombing, in 1993, the perpetrators were caught and convicted, but nothing was done about their foreign sponsors. After the embassy bombings, a bunch of cruise missiles blew up some sand in Afghanistan; the guilty walked away. Sadly, history teaches that force???*** must be force: whoever sponsored Tuesday's atrocities may have been emboldened by the facts that no serious price was paid by the groups that staged the first World Trade Center and the embassy bombings. Unless a serious price is paid now, more terrorism may lay in the future.

In Christian doctrine, "just war" theory governs such moments. "Just war" theory does not arise from scripture. The Bible knows two views toward fighting, the revengeful warring of the early Old Testament and the abhorrence of violence that runs through the late Old Testament to the new. Rather than from scripture, "just war" arises from theology and church doctrine, and teaches two basic ideas: that force may be employed, when just, to prevent greater harm; and that force must be proportionate.

In military terms, what is "proportionate" when thousands of innocents have died? Proportionate is the death of everyone who aided in the event and destruction of everything and every place they used. This will mean more than firing cruise missiles into remote mountain passes.

If another nation was involved
If some other state either staged Tuesday's attack or assisted those who staged it, then the United States has no choice but to go to war, for in those circumstances an "attack" is what occurred. Senator John McCain has already called the day's events "an act of war." If an act of war, the United States must declare war. And dropping bombs from high altitude will not be all there is to it. Should the sponsoring state prove to be Afghanistan, there's nothing let there to bomb as it is. American troops would have to take physical possession of the country, a daunting task as British and Russian armies know, but there would be no other choice. If Iraq staged or sponsored Tuesday's atrocities, a second war with that nation may lay ahead, and one that can only end with America in possession of Baghdad.

Other possibilities involving other nations are equally chilling and sure to be expensive in treasure and blood. There is no good outcome for the events sure to follow the day's tragedies, only lesser-evil outcomes. Inaction or pin-prick response would make the United States look weak and invite more terrorism; decisive action will cost the lives of American soldiers and surely kill some innocents in wherever America must strike. A relatively carefree phase of American history may have ended.

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