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Black, White, And Rational

Brian M. Loux

Some people compare last week’s terrorist actions to World War II, a time where our nation was deliberately attacked by Japan, when we in the great American tradition responded, persevered, and made the world safe for democracy. Because of this, they call us to arms.

To others we are headed for another Vietnam, when a small group of hawks in the upper echelon of politics acted brashly in response to an apparent attack on our ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, and while the public cried for peace, our men were sent to be slaughtered for reasons unbeknownst to them. Because of this, they call us to restraint.

Which of these analogies is correct? For every major war we have been in, including the American Revolution, the public sentiment was split each time. Can we use historical events as a reference for our actions today?

Sure, if we know where to look. We don’t need to look just at wars for our understanding, we need to look at Columbine.

Remember Columbine? Let’s review what happened. Two students arrived at the conclusion that everybody hated them and deserved to die. After plotting for almost a year, they entered their school armed to the teeth and proceeded to kill 13 students and teachers, themselves, and for a time, rational thought in America.

The nation erupted; emotions raged to an extent parallel with what we see today. This in turn brought a tidal wave of hysteria among an otherwise sane people. Fingers were pointed in all directions. Explanations for the acts ranged from abortion (George W. Bush in a CNN interview) to violent computer games. Everyone had a brilliant idea for how to make sure it never happened again, and oddly enough, most ideas contradicted one another. Those who offered opposition to someone’s idea for the new utopia (including me, many times) were frequently met with, “Well, don’t you want safer schools?”

And of course we all did. But Democrats with their uber-gun checks and mandatory psychological analysis for all students, and Republicans with their models for moral education, and everyone with their police state schools, all missed something. Lunatics are like cockroaches. No matter what you do, you cannot get rid of them all. Even our best efforts would not prevent one or two from slipping through the cracks, finding a hole in security, and causing it to happen all over again. And our preventative measures would have taken away our tax dollars and civil liberties in vain.

Now look at today. Another horrific event has, as much as we may hate to admit it, torn the people into two zealous parties calling for war or peace. Anyone with a dissenting opinion is met with, “Well, don’t you want this to never happen again?” And again, they all fail to realize that whatever actions we take cannot guarantee that terrorism will never hit home again. Plus, our decisions stemming only from our reactions to horrific videotapes will likely lead to more dangerous complications.

War of course has some deadly consequences that should give our leaders pause. Declaring war, especially war on anyone sympathizing with our attackers, validates for them what is otherwise a false claim that we are their enemies. Our motive of justice goes completely out the window, replaced by a motive of vengeance. What more could these terrorists ask for? Garnering even more widespread support would be no longer a problem for terrorist organizations, and they could then unite themselves with any number of outlaw groups and countries to solidify. Do not think that just because these attacks were rather low-tech, the organizations behind this do not have the capability to use chemical and biological weaponry on us. And what better justification for using them could they have than U.S. Special Operations and ground forces occupying their homeland?

Further complicating members, this would also be the first war where our aggressor is not a nation, but a loosely organized group. Who, exactly, are we to attack? As we saw earlier this week, while we were grilling Afghanistan, bin Laden slipped out the back door to Indonesia and established more camps there. In our anger, we were unable to act effectively.

So should we just turn the other cheek? No, the political aspects of that are far too dangerous. The attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center were clear victories for the terrorists. Showing them that we are incapable of reaction will give them another victory, and show them they need not fear repercussions for similar actions in the future. If we change our foreign policy to appease their desires, it will show them that violence is an effective way to achieve their goals. It is impossible to make friends with those who will say until their death that you are their enemy and are undeserving of life.

As a side note, I think Eminem’s commentary on Columbine also parallels the current situation perfectly. Recall from his song “I Am”: “Now it’s a tragedy; Now it’s so sad to see an upper class city havin’ this happenin’,” highlighting that school shootings were a common occurrence in inner city schools and met with no public outcry. While the terrorist bombings Tuesday were on a larger scale than other acts of terrorism, atrocities with the same motivations and taking the same innocent lives have gone on in Third World countries for years. What shocked America the most was the realization that we, an advanced nation, are not upon a pedestal, but are privy to the same experiences as other countries. I also fear that many people are not trying to solve this situation for justice’s sake, but so that we can once again be a safe “upper class” nation.

Everyone says that we want justice to prevail. Unfortunately, we need to realize that despite our best efforts, we cannot define justice, especially in tough situations such as this. The closest that we can get to real justice right now is to control the passion that we feel and view our situation at a distance and with rationality. Justice may mean combat, but not a war of retaliation. Justice may mean peace, but not at any price. Like Columbine, our emotions will one day cool, and I hope we will realize that these solutions were made in the heat of the moment and are not the best way to solve the complex problems our world faces.