The Six Most Dangerous Words:
"They Must Know Something We Don't"
November 8, 2001
One can support the goal of
eliminating Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group as threats to the United
States -- and I do support that goal -- and at the same time still differ
with the Bush administration on the proper tactics and strategy to achieve
In the context of just such
discussions -- not whether, but how to get rid of bin Laden and Al
Qaeda -- I'm beginning to hear a certain six disquieting words that
reverberate down from the days of the Vietnam War: "They must know
something we don't."
Those of us protesting the
Vietnam War were often told by our opponents that we did not have all the
facts, that there was undoubtedly top secret intelligence-type information
which would put a lie to our otherwise seemingly intelligent
arguments. Accordingly, our opponents told us, they would continue to
support the Johnson or Nixon administration in prosecuting the war because,
as the conveniently short, all-purpose, and conclusive (at least in their
eyes) counter-argument went: "They must know something we don't."
As eventually became obvious,
not only did "they" not "know something we
don't," but they didn't even know what we knew: that the war was
not winnable because we were on the wrong side, and that we never should
have intervened in the first place.
The present situation with
the Afghanistan War is quite different in that I believe the war is quite
winnable, and that we are properly intervening there. As I've written
elsewhere, it is our war
tactics and strategy that I vehemently object to.
And in that context of
discussing the proper means to win the war, I've had "They must know
something we don't" thrown in my face.
No, they don't know anything
we don't that will support their position. If they did, they would
offer it to bolster their arguments. I just don't buy this
"national security concerns and a desire to protect our sources prevent
our disclosing this information" line. Bin Laden et al know we
can intercept any and all of their electronic communications, so revealing
the content of such intercepted communications doesn't compromise anything
-- at least not according to any logical line of reasoning I've ever heard.
Indeed, to the extent
"they know something we don't" is true, "what they know"
would be precisely that information which discredits their position,
and which they therefore simply don't want to reveal.
That this is the case is
borne out by a recent revelation
concerning the Gulf of
Tonkin resolution. After a reported attack on U.S. warships by
North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, Congress authorized President
Johnson "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack
against the forces of the United States and to prevent further
This resolution was used by
the Johnson administration as the basis for escalating the war. As
many historians have long concluded, and as the recent disclosure confirms,
President Johnson knew at the time that the attack had never occurred.
So the only thing they knew that we didn't was a fact which would have
undermined their entire authorization to fight the war in the first place.
In 2001, of course, in direct
contrast, the attack on America did occur, and -- as I
apparently can't state often enough since many readers still accuse me of
not wanting America to protect itself -- we do now have the right to go
after bin Laden and al Qaeda.
But that doesn't mean that we
have to accept everything the Bush administration tells us about the war
effort as gospel, and follow in lock-step supporting every aspect of their
war policy. We have the right -- indeed the duty -- to think for
And if something doesn't
smell right, if our own eyes and ears and sense of logic and propriety tell
us something is seriously amiss with
our war effort, those six most dangerous words -- "They know something
we don't" -- should not be allowed to deter us from speaking out and
achieving changes in U.S. policy.