We need an Appropriate Response... not a Proportional Response

Grufty Jim, 13th September 2001ce

This is a difficult piece to write. With the massive human tragedy caused by the terrorist attacks in the USA recently, it seems somehow wrong to be discussing the issue of George Bush's competence to deal with it. With a general consensus growing that America, and indeed the free world, needs to "get behind the president" and "show a united front", any criticism of the direction the president chooses to take will be seen as almost traitorous, or at best as cheap, tasteless political point-scoring.

I have never been a fan of Bush, and have often enjoyed pointing out his shortcomings, but I am very aware that there are indeed times when it is unjustifiable to show opposition to a leader you dislike, when a community or a people does indeed need to unite, and when dissent is inappropriate when measured against the common good achieved through a unity of purpose.

However, despite the awful loss of life - or perhaps because of it - these vile events need to be examined carefully, and a genuinely appropriate response needs to be made. It is simply not good enough for us to seek our unity of purpose in blind rage and find solace in a lust for revenge. We cannot abdicate the responsibility to deal with these acts in the correct manner. For if we respond inappropriately, if we lash out at 'the usual suspects', then we are voluntarily surrendering whatever values it is we believe these terrorists are attacking.

As I write this there has been no official casualty numbers. George Bush has acted as any president, as any human being, would act in these circumstances; he's clearly stunned by the events - as are we all - and is gathering those around him to develop a response. That's the man's job, and I personally don't envy him it. For all my criticisms of Bush, for all my
suspicions about the man and his motives, I wish him well over the next few days and weeks. When the numbness at the days events wears off, America will be clamouring for answers, and for a lot more. They will be demanding that they be made more secure. And most of them will be demanding retribution.

George Bush has the job of dealing with all of those demands.

I just worry that the thousands of innocent, decent people who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania will find their deaths responded to with the deaths of thousands of innocent, decent people in some town in Libya or Iraq or most likely, Afghanistan. I worry that by uniting behind Bush, America and the world will be giving free rein to a man who has already shown himself to be a committed militarist, and who may not see the Appropriate Response in his understandable, if unjustifiable, desire to give what the military describe as a Proportional Response.

I hope I am wrong. I hope Bush responds to this crisis by finding the true perpetrators of these acts - the people who planned and financed the operation - and exacts retribution upon those individuals. I'm not a believer in the death penalty, I am a pacifist and believe that the taking of a human life can never be an act of justice and cannot be justifiable as an act of revenge. But having seen the images of New York today, I freely admit that I would feel no compulsion to object should Bush find their headquarters and destroy it.

However much I hate to admit it, I'm not sure that the Appropriate Response to the brutal slaying of thousands of people can be solely in the form of words. Killing to make a political, social or religious point can never be accepted as legitimate. But to do it on such a massive scale, while it shouldn't change it, does indeed change the act. It takes it to a new level where the attack is not merely on individuals, but on entire communities. And the Appropriate Response to such a threat may not be entirely non-violent.

But justice will not be served if our response in the west is to simply bomb some random Muslims. And do be aware, Bush's threat to make no distinction between the terrorists and "those who harbour them" could well be a preface to just such a response.

Afghanistan is a country utterly desolated by decades of drought and civil war. The populace are arguably the most distressed people on earth. The fact that each set of rulers has been displaced by ones even more ruthless has led to the rule of the Taliban. And if our response is to destroy some Afghan towns because Osama bin Laden is known to spend some time there, or to wage war on the people of Afghanistan because their current despotic rulers happen to be the Taliban, then we lose all of our legitimacy.

You see, we cannot respond to the murder of innocents by murdering other innocents in their names. If we do so, we announce to the world that we see no moral distinction between the terrorists and ourselves. We just hope we can outgun them.

And if we can claim any genuine moral superiority over these fanatics, it cannot simply be by stating "well they did it first" as we unleash mass murder on anyone who happens to be in the 2 mile blast radius when we bomb the suspects. It must be because we make a true distinction between the innocent and the guilty. And unlike them, we must never, ever murder the innocent.