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Sunday, Nov 11, 2001

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Waging war, waging peace


LET us be fair. It was not the U.S. that declared war on September 11. The war was forced on it; it had no option but to respond. Under such circumstances, the ``my country, right or wrong'' attitude was the only rational response. So long as the embers still smoulder, it is the wrong time to come up with ``namby-pamby'' arguments about how the U.S. was in fact only paying for its sins in the past. What was George Bush supposed to do as his world collapsed around him? Promise not to sin again?

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was right to declare that he had no patience with ``those who say that we must understand the reason for terrorism'': We are right and they (the terrorists) are wrong, he said. It is as simple as that. There is no moral way to sympathise with grossly immoral actions. By doing that, by trying to do that, a fertile field has unfortunately been created in which terrorism has grown.

I am not saying that the U.S. must be forgiven its sins. That would be foolish, since George Bush proposes to make use of the gullibility of the American people to continue to commit them. All that I am saying is that that was not the time to bring it up. To do that would be to invite (and deserve) the sort of anger and scorn that Taslima Nasreen brought on herself in the Islamic world when, immediately after the Babri Masjid was brought down, she chose (with the enthusiastic approval of the ``civilised world'') to lambast her brethren for their atrocities against the Hindus over the preceding decades and centuries — after all, she said, in a voice of sweet reason, as the mobs took to the streets in fury, ``the Hindus had a reason for thinking as they do. One must try and understand!''

So far as I can see, the only rational attitude for each side to take vis--vis the other is the one illustrated in the story about Ram asking the ocean to move out of his way temporarily — because he needed to cross over to Lanka to bring his wife back home. ``You do your duty,'' the ocean replied; ``I have to do mine.''

But all is not lost. There will be time and opportunity for introspection, for enlightenment, when things have cooled a bit. Even then, however, I do not think it will be wise (either in the ``civilised'' world or outside it) to try to tackle such issues from the ``sins of the past'' angle — whether out of a concern for Truth, or as part of a case for revenge or reparations. It is better to approach such things by dispassionately examining the worthwhileness of various responses or options that are and will be available — to the U.S., in the World Trade Center case — in the months and years to come — from the point of view of the American people, and taking special care to avoid raking up the past; if only to preserve one's credibility with the people one is trying to persuade.

As it is, things are going to be tough enough. Even debate about available options will be stonewalled or contemptuously brushed aside with ``my nation, right or wrong'' attitudes. No matter how badly the high priests mess up, they can always counter with: you say things are bad? If we had not done xyz, they would have been worse. Much worse.

Only decades later, long after any useful purpose is served, will someone like Robert Mc Namara be able to counter with: really?, as he did in the case of Vietnam.

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