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The Third Rail

In times of war a third rail exists that is more powerful than all the political correctness in the world. If you touch it you are at least made to wish you were dead. It is criticism of the war or any aspect of the war or admitting to understand what most people understand but do not speak, the reasons for the actions of the enemy.

Decades later, sometimes hundreds of years later, suggesting the other side had reasons for its actions still has consequences. Even a century and a half after the American Civil War one has to tread lightly on matters regarding the Confederacy.

During the first Gulf War there were protests against it which the government handled by simply ignoring them. When protesters lay down in the streets of the District the police simply watched and waited until they were tired enough and cold enough to go home. The stage is set in the approaching second Gulf War for a Vietnam or even WWII era response to protest.

Quasi-governmental citizen groups are being formed to act as they did in World War II. They are will be attacking anyone who shows anything less than total and unquestioning support of the war as unamerican. The groups are headed by high level political hacks. They will do what the government cannot openly do without being assured of a docile Supreme Court.

Among the things which cannot be discussed are the possible justifications for the 911 attacks. Let me stipulate for the purpose of this discussion there were no justifications for any terrorists acts against the US prior to 911. 911 was totally unjustifiable and inexcusable.

Now there are justifications and excuses for future attacks. Regardless of what number you ascribe to, be it four thousand or four hundred or even forty, the US did in fact bomb and kill people who were by US standards innocent civilians. US justifications for it cannot be expected to comfort the surviving family members of the dead or be accepted by them.

We may feel excused under the rubric of collateral damage. The dead and the survivors are the collateral damage. They have every moral justification even in our terms to kill random innocent Americans unless the US gives them justice by criminal prosecution of those responsible.

Such prosecution is impossible. The military would never tolerate it. The president will not indict himself. The press will not discuss it. And if the people disagree they will be verbally tarred and feathered as unamerican unlike in the first world war where it was often done literally.

The US legal response is prosecuting an American (and presumably anyone else it can get into a court of law or before a military tribunal) who fought because the pilots who bombed him from 30,000 feet did not respond to his raised hands of surrender.

The only argument against such revenge is asserting only nations are permitted to wage war. An interesting argument which may appeal to the US but is not something the surviving family members can accept. We may denigrate their position as primitive and uncivilized. One certain thing is they will not consider themselves primitive and uncivilized.

If they see a moral right to revenge all the persuasion in the world will not change it no more than they could persuade us to accept their right to revenge. It is absolutely certain we cannot accept even our shared common belief in the right to simple justice by prosecuting the responsible Americans.

Even when at peace we rarely consider the point of view of other people. We saw constant denigration of the Taliban as primitive and uncivilized and worse. They were resisting western ways with the same enthusiasm as we would resist their ways in the west even a majority of people in the west were to desire it.

I am not addressing right and wrong. I am observing a fact, different people have different ideas regarding what is right and what is wrong. I am also observing both sides of the Afghan war agree killing innocent civilians is in the category of wrong in both a moral and a legal sense.

I am observing the US has done exactly what was done on 911, killed civilians which it judges to have been innocent. There is a legal distinction between deliberately killing and accidentally killing and in law it is the distinction between homicide and manslaughter. Both sides in the Afghan war agree manslaughter is a crime which must be adjudicated for the sake of justice.

In a military sense, the US avowed many times it was only at war with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and not the people of Afghanistan, that it was not a war with the nation of Afghanistan. As it was not a war against Afghanistan civilians should not have been at risk.

Now we have enemies. Enemies with exactly the same moral perspective as we have on the matter of dead innocent civilians. We now have enemies whose motivation we can fully understand and appreciate as it is the same as our motivation for the Afghan war. In full understanding and complete agreement we can agree to continue shedding each other's blood.

What will we do when we acknowledge we have enemies with whom we agree on moral and legal grounds? The government and the press will once again apply moral principles which reflect only the US point of view. Meaning we will not publicly acknowledge our fundamental agreement.

In this Afghan war the American public has been stirred by a single impetus, revenge. Revenge is not a proper public sentiment so it has become a moral crusade against the abstract noun, terrorism. In the preparations for the second Gulf War abstract terrorism is used for another US/Iraq war which has all the appearances of a tribal blood feud worthy of Afghanistan.

The grief of the families on the 911 victims which is now shared by the families of the Afghan War victims will soon be shared by the families of the second Gulf War. That is more than sufficient grief to fuel many future 911s and wars of revenge. May God have mercy on us all.

March 23, 2002