Tomorrow will mark the third anniversary of the massacre of 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. (See my colleague Charlotte Hays’s September 11 below.) How will we commemorate that dreadful day? Sadly, I fear, by commemorating yet another massacre, the one that took place last week, the one that claimed the lives of 300 Russians, half of them children. Not to mention all the other mass-slaughters of the past three years: the tourists in Bali, the train-passengers in Madrid, all those little knots of schoolchildren and pizza-eaters and disco-dancers and bus-riders in Israel. Connect the dots, and you can see 9/11s large and small girding the world. Connect the dots again, and you can link up the perpetrators, too: every last one of them a Muslim fanatic using terrorism against civilians as a weapon of war. The enemy is the same, too: us, the inheritors of the civilization of the West.

But we can’t say any of those things. Respecting Beslan, Russia, where all those kids were shot in the back, stabbed in their stomachs, and blown up with rigged explosives, we can’t use the word “terrorist.” We can’t use the word “Muslim.” Instead, we have to talk about whether the government of whether the Russian government led by Vladimir Putin has been nice enough to Chechnyan separatists–that is, whether Putin has been sufficiently attentive to the “root causes” of the mass slaughter. And respecting our own country, we’re supposed to make fun of our own national security people with their Code Oranges as hopeless paranoids looking for an excuse for tyranny.

In the Wall Street Journal today, novelist/columnist Mark Helprin bitterly takes our country–yes, even the Bush administration as well as G.W. Bush’s Democratic opponent, John Kerry–to task for allowing in our blindness the 9/11 of 2001 to breed the mini-9/11s of the past three years. Helprin writes:

“Out of fear and confusion we have hesitated to name the enemy. We proceed as if we are fighting disparate criminals united by coincidence, rather than the vanguard of militant Islam, united by ideology, sentiment, doctrine, and practice, its partisans drawn from Morocco to the Philippines, Chechnya to the Sudan, a vast swath of the earth that, in regard to the elemental beliefs that fuel jihad, is as homogeneous as Denmark.

“Too timid to admit to a clash of civilizations even as it occurs, we failed to declare the war, thus forfeiting clarity of intent and the unambiguous consent of the American people. This was a sure way, as in the Vietnam era, to divide the country and prolong the battle.

“We failed not only to prepare for war but to provision for it after it had begun, disallowing a military buildup, much less the wartime transformation of the economy….

“Given the lack of movement in the war and poverty of choice in leadership, Americans looked to a commission. Like the senescent Ottomans we waited and waited as the seasons passed, and were presented neither with swelling armies, well defended borders, nor a string of victories. Although the bravest commissioners of said commission fought to tell us that we are indeed in a clash of civilizations, even they, appointed by their respective parties, did not state the simple unvarnished truth that for 20 years administrations both Republican and Democratic have ignored or misread the evidence concerning terrorism and must be judged negligent and culpable.

“The president could have said this, and in doing so clarified the course ahead and won the trust of the people. The commission could have said it simply and directly, but did not. Instead, it offered the labored and nearly impertinent conclusion that the way to prevail in this war is to rearrange the organizational table of the intelligence agencies. Many of its reforms are questionable on their face, most would have merely a neutral effect on the substance of intelligence, and the emphasis is mistaken. Like those who want to fight the war by funding fire departments–knife attacks are not defeated by bandages, and the Battle of Britain was not won by the London Fire Brigades–the commission looked upon one aspect as if it were the essential element, which it is not….

“Neither the commission, the president, nor the Democratic nominee has a clear vision of how to fight and defend in this war. Partly this is because so many Americans do not yet feel, as some day they may, the gravity of what we are facing.

“Three years on, that is where we stand: our strategy shiftless, reactive, irrelevantly grandiose; our war aims undefined; our preparations insufficient; our civil defense neglected; our polity divided into support for either a hapless and incompetent administration that in a parliamentary system would have been turned out long ago, or an opposition so used to appeasement of America’s rivals, critics, and enemies that they cannot even do a credible job of pretending to be resolute.”

These are harsh words from Helprin–yet at a time when we are obliged to commemorate one terrorist mass-murder by burying the dead from another terrorist mass-murder–we perhaps should heed these words. At the very least, we ought to be permitted openly to connect the dots.