The U.S. Naval Institute
130th Annual Meeting and Annapolis Naval History Symposium (2004)
Address by Former Secretary of the Navy John
U.S. Naval Reserve
Proceedings, May 2004
'Our Enemy Is Not Terrorism'
The former Secretary of the Navy and current member of the Kean Commission
investigating the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United
States (center) addressed the U.S. Naval Institute 130th Annual Meeting
and Annapolis Naval History Symposium on 31 March. Following is an edited
version of his remarks. Kean Commission members pictured include, from
left, James R. Thompson, Bob Kerrey, Richard Ben-Veniste, and, with
pen, Vice Chair Lee Hamilton.
The subject here is naval history and the naval history to come. This
is particularly relevant, given the subjects I've been immersed in over
the last year—the so-called war on terrorism and the attacks of 9/11,
what went wrong, and what we should do to fix it. I have learned that
what these two institutions—the U.S. Naval Institute and the U.S. Naval
Academy—stand for are at the center of what we face as a nation going
The Naval Institute is one of the
great intellectual institutions in this country. I first joined when
I was an undergraduate in college, and I have been a fan of it for my
entire career, with the exception of six short years when I was Secretary
of the Navy. Somehow, the institution got off track in those six years.
While I was Secretary and a reserve lieutenant commander, I began to
read articles by mere lieutenants who disagreed with me. I began to
read articles in Proceedings and hear about speeches that I hadn't approved,
ideas that had not been cleared—heresies from the 600-ship Navy. It
was truly shocking. But after I left the government, somehow I seemed
to find that the institution returned to its grand tradition of truth
©2004 GREG E. MATHIESON/MAI
We are at a juncture today that really is more of a threshold, even
more of a watershed, than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was in
1941. We are currently in a war, but it is not a war on terrorism. In
fact, that has been a great confusion, and the sooner we drop that term,
the better. This would be like President Franklin Roosevelt saying in
War II, "We are engaged in a war against kamikazes and blitzkrieg."
Like them, terrorism is a method, a tool, a weapon that has been used
against us. And part of the reason we suffered such a horrific attack
is that we were not prepared. Let's not kid ourselves. Some very smart
people defeated every single defense this country had, and defeated
them easily, with confidence and arrogance. There are many lessons we
must learn from this.
We were not prepared intellectually. Those of us in the national security
field still carried the baggage of the Cold
War. We thought in concepts of coalition warfare and the Warsaw
Pact. When we thought of terrorism, we thought only of state-sponsored
terrorism, which is why the immediate reaction of many in our government
agencies after 9/11 was: Which state did it? Saddam, it must have been
Saddam. We had failed to grasp, for a variety of reasons, the new phenomenon
that had emerged in the world. This was not state-sponsored terrorism.
This was religious war.
This was the emergence of a transnational enemy driven by religious
fervor and fanaticism. Our enemy is not terrorism. Our enemy is violent,
Islamic fundamentalism. None of our government institutions was set
up with receptors, or even vocabulary, to deal with this. So we left
ourselves completely vulnerable to a concerted attack.
Where are we today? I'd like to say we have fixed these problems, but
we haven't. We have very real vulnerabilities. We have not diminished
in any way the fervor and ideology of our enemy. We are fighting them
in many areas of the world, and I must say with much better awareness
of the issues and their nature. We're fighting with better tools. But
I cannot say we are now safe from the kind of attack we saw on 9/11.
I think we are much safer than we were on 9/11; the ability of our enemies
to launch a concerted, sophisticated attack is much less than it was
then. Still, we're totally vulnerable to the kinds of attacks we've
seen in Madrid, for instance. We face a very sophisticated and intelligent
enemy who has been trained, in many cases, in our universities and gone
to school on our methods, learned from their mistakes, and continued
to use the very nature of our free society and its aversion to intrusion
in privacy and discrimination to their benefit.
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