In Bureaucracy, History on September 11, 2010 at 2:39 pm

“I hold it to be a proof of great prudence for men to abstain from threats and insulting words towards any one,” warns Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, in his monumental work, The Discourses.

“For neither the one [threats] nor the other [insulting words] in any way diminishes the strength of the enemy—but the one makes him more cautious, and the other increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.”

Terry Jones clearly hasn’t read Machiavelli.

Jones, head of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., sparked an international uproar when he announced his church would burn 200 copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

American political and military bureaucracies immediately responded.

President Barack Obama condemned the plan. General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, warned it could endanger American troops. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates telephoned Jones and urged him to reconsider.

Then, on September 9, Jones announced that he would call off the Koran burning.

Instead, he would fly to New York on September 11 to meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Rauf is the Muslim cleric who wants to build an Islamic center a few blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center.

Jones said that he had received “a sign from God”–Rauf had agreed to move the Islamic center.

Officials at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon heaved a sigh of relief.

But Rauf said there was no such deal, and Jones later said he was having second thoughts about burning the Korans.

Then Jones did another about-face: He might decide to burn the Korans after all.

Finally, on September 11, Jones announced: No, he was absolutely not going to burn the Korans.

“We feel when we started this out that one of our reasons was to show, to expose that there is an element in Islam that is very dangerous and very radical,” Jones said on the “Today” show. “I believe that we have definitely accomplished that mission.”

Jones said the fact that he has received more than 100 death threats without yet burning a Koran was proof of his views.

Yet the fact remains: Burning the Koran–or the Bible, or any other religious book–does not in any way weaken anyone who believes in its tenets.

On the contrary, as Machiavelli warned: Insulting an enemy only “increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.”

And what applies to Americans threatening to burn the Koran applies equally to Muslims who regularly burn the American flag.

Unfortunately, we have entered the age of symbolism, where destroying a symbol is seen as the same as achieving all-out victory.

It is not.

During World War II, American and British cartoonists and comedians regularly jeered at German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. But it was not those jeers that rolled back Nazi armies, freed their captive peoples and ended the Holocaust.

It was the courage, patience and dedication of millions of soldiers on the Western and Eastern fronts. Soldiers who realized that destroying symbolic objects does not win wars.

What wins wars is destroying the will of the enemy to resist. And that usually means destroying vast numbers of enemy lives and conquering vast amounts of enemy territory.

Burning countless numbers of Korans will not achieve victory for us. Nor will burning countless numbers of American flags achieve victory for our sworn enemies across the Islamic world.

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