Fifty years ago Whittaker Chambers, a Marxist-turned-Christian, wrote in his book Witness that the next several decades would decide "whether all mankind is to become Communist, whether the whole world is to become free, or whether, in the struggle, civilization as we know it is to be completely destroyed or completely changed. It is our fate to live upon that turning point in history."
Chambers was pessimistic-he thought in leaving Communism he was leaving the winning side-because he saw a power among his former comrades. "Their power, whose nature baffles the rest of the world, because in a large measure the rest of the world has lost that power, is the power to hold convictions and to act on them," Chambers wrote. "Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die-to bear witness-for its faith."
The United States decided to make a mighty effort to contain that power. The Cold War had its hot wars in Korea and Vietnam, but with God's grace containment succeeded and the Soviet Union fell. From 1991 to Sept. 11, 2001, the United States enjoyed a decade of victory and peace, marred though it was by flare-ups abroad and scandal at home. Now, though, it is our sad but providential task to face another turning point in history.
Our new war is similar in some ways to the Cold War. Our opponents are once again men who hold terrifying convictions (although this time they are even willing to kill themselves as they murder others). There are major differences: The Cold War was fought between two superpowers with the ability to obliterate each other, so neither fired a shot directly at the other. Nevertheless, in terms of longevity, dire threats, and the perseverance required for victory, the Cold War is a more fitting model than the 100-hour Gulf War or the four-year war against Germany and Japan.
At the start of Cold (sometimes hot) War I in 1946, Harry Truman and Winston Churchill decided not to characterize that long twilight struggle as a battle of Christianity vs. atheism, but one of freedom vs. dictatorship. They were wise to do so, for the anti-Communist coalition that grew included people of many religions and no religion, and even some socialists. All were needed as the alliance just barely survived Soviet punches that finally came slower and slower until the exhausted threat finally slumped to the canvas.
At the start of Cold (sometimes hot) War II in 2001, George W. Bush has made a similar decision. He has characterized the new conflict not as a battle of Christianity vs. Islam, but one of civilization vs. terror. He is wise to do so, given both the diversity of America and our reliance on the oil of Muslim countries. But this characterization makes it essential to assess whether most Muslims will be willing and able to join a new coalition, or whether Islam is a breeding ground for terrorists.