Thursday, September 02, 2004

IS THERE A DEPTH... which terrorists will not sink? The latest victims of the “asymmetrical war” between terrorism and human civilization are the Russian schoolchildren currently being held hostage in Beslan.


This is what it’s come to. The same mindset that blows up discotheques in Bali, straps explosives to children, bombs pizza parlors and buses in Israel, murders Jewish athletes in Munich, pushes a wheelchair-bound man off a cruise ship, and flies airplanes into buildings in the United States - this is the mindset that we are up against. Weak people with weak minds who value death over life, this is the only way they can fight.

There are some people who say, because terror is the only way these people can fight, that this excuses them. And they are wrong. There is no excuse for the murder of children and innocent civilians.

Ahh, you will say. But what about America’s use of the atomic bomb in 1945? Weren’t innocent civilians and children killed then?

Tragically, yes. But I will not sit here from my comfortable 21st century perch and say that Truman could have avoided dropping A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sure, you can construct plenty of alternative scenarios - a demonstration, perhaps? Sure, a demonstration might have been effective, but what if it had been a dud? The technology used in the Hiroshima bomb was different from that in the Trinity test - had it failed in front of a hostile and skeptical Japanese audience, what then?

The thing to keep in mind is that at that time, we were at war. A war that we did not start. A “symmetrical” war between two ostensibly equal entities: nation-states. The kind of war that can be ended with a formal surrender.

And, as so thoroughly demonstrated in the 20th century, the kind of war that took a horrendous toll on civilians worldwide... even excluding the Nazi-perpetrated holocaust, the deliberate murder of European Jews. Civilians. Children.

The kind of war we absolutely had to win. For us, it was not about land or booty - it was an issue of the survival of (for lack of a better way to describe it) a civilization embodying a fundamental core of decency.

So we dropped the bomb. In the calculus of death, probably the right decision, since Japan’s prompt capitulation removed the need for an invasion of the Home Islands in which many more would have died. As for the firebombing of Dresden by Allied forces, any tears I might have shed for its civilian victims are more than outweighed by my grief over the children that were thrown into the ovens by the Nazis.

We won that war, at great cost. Great cost to us, the victors, and great cost to the vanquished. But the cost of our losing it would have been so much higher.

And here we are, almost 60 years later, fighting another war. Another war we absolutely have to win. For if we don’t, the history books will be written by the kind of people who take children hostage. And our children will live in their world... if they are allowed to live at all.

[Update: As of 6 September, the Russian government acknowledges that they lied about the number of hostages involved. There were over 1200 - and latest word is over 350 confirmed dead, with up to 200 unaccounted for.]

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