Yale University

Class News

With Resolve and Strength

by Andy Combe
The Andover Bulletin
Winter, 2002

Months have passed since our country was brutally attacked and some 4,000 innocent people from more than 70 nations were senselessly and callously murdered in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Indeed, the horrible shocks of Sept. 11 linger on to this day. As a veteran of 30 years of active duty in the U.S. Navy, however, I feel the nightmare began almost a year earlier when the USS Cole was attacked by terrorists in Yemen. On that day, 17 guiltless American sailors lost their lives at the hands of people just as evil, and clearly representing the same warped ethos, as those who perpetrated the September attacks. Having made two extended deployments to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf in ships similar to the Cole, I related to that catastrophe in a personal way. It was frighteningly close to home. It seems even closer today as we watch a videotape of the instigators smiling and joking about their adventures.

One must wonder why the attack on a U.S. destroyer did not serve as a clearer precursor of worse things to come than, in fact, it did. Similar observations could be made about the bombings of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Now it is easy to see that the interconnectivity of these events indicates a plan to permanently disrupt, if not eradicate, the American way of life and the freedom that underpins it. It is only now we recognize that many people on the planet despise our way of life so grievously that they will do whatever they can to undermine it. Fortunately, their ambitions are being proven futile, although at enormous cost.

It is gratifying to observe that terrorism, abhorrent as it is and as destructive as it has been to our national illusion of immunity, has served to unite our country, and indeed the world, in a way not witnessed since World War II. The global coalition pledged to defeat terrorism is extensive, and it includes some surprising bedfellows. Domestically, bipartisanship has experienced a minor renaissance in the Congress, and support of the president is at a rarely achieved level across the land. The American people, in the main, enthusiastically endorse our government's efforts to eradicate global terrorism and eliminate the Al Qaeda forces of darkness who are so bent on destroying us. Support of the military is stronger than it has been for years, and all military services are witnessing sorely needed spikes in recruiting, as are police and fire departments.

It is disappointing, however, to realize that a minority of people, blessedly a very small one, appears to believe terrorist attacks on America, whether they be on the USS Cole or the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, are not unwarranted. One academic publicly commented that he would vote for "anyone who crashed a plane into the Pentagon." Some espouse the curious theory that the terrorist attacks were justifiable, or at least understandable, retribution for American "arrogance" in foreign affairs. Others postulate that sanctions against Iraq, spearheaded by American efforts, have caused the death of more than a million children. They forget that Iraq's belligerence in 1990 could easily have led to the loss of freedom in Kuwait and perhaps Saudi Arabia had not the United States and its coalition partners intervened. A few religious extremists opine that the terrorist attacks were retribution for societal practices that do not precisely fit into their matrix of values. At least one city council in our country has passed a resolution condemning world efforts to eradicate terrorism and to bring Osama bin Laden and his army of thugs to justice.

In my judgment, those who opt to differ with the position our country has taken are way off base. The good news is that in the United States they are allowed to express their opinions, no matter how outlandish or wrong they may be. In many of the nations that sponsor terrorism and harbor terrorists, they would not be so privileged. Perhaps these people should recall the inaugural address of President George W. Bush '64, our Andover-schooled commander-in-chief. In it, he stated, "America remains engaged in the world by history and by choice, shaping a balance of power that favors freedom. We will defend our allies and our interests. We will show purpose without arrogance. We will meet aggression and bad faith with resolve and strength. And to all nations, we will speak for the values that gave our nation birth."

Indeed, our country and the free world are doing exactly what the president said we would do almost a year ago.

Andy Combe graduated from Andover in 1960 and from Yale in 1964. During a U.S. Navy career that lasted from 1964 to 1990, he commanded three ships: the presidential yacht Sequoia, a guided missile frigate, and an Aegis cruiser. He also served on the staffs of Presidents Nixon and Ford and attended the Spanish Naval War College and the U.S. Naval War College.