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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Volcanic Ash
It's a time for punishment

By David Shapiro

A little kid I know was so upset by images of war that he wanted to write a letter to President Bush. With great effort, he scribbled, "Don't bomb them. Teach them."

I ache for him and know his fear from my own childhood during the most chilling times of the Cold War. Sadly, however, there are times when the only way to teach is to punish. Now is such a time.

That's a difficult conclusion for a peacenik who came of age in the 1960s dissenting from the Vietnam War.

The toughest question the draft board asked would-be pacifists back then was this: "If somebody broke into your house and started slaughtering your family, would you kill him or let him keep killing your family?"

The question had no relevance to Vietnam, so we fudged our answers. But the issue is no longer academic. Somebody has broken into our house and is slaughtering members of our family. We have to deal with it for real.

I respect my friends in the anti-war movement who keep looking for a peaceful way out of this, but they've come up empty. Opponents of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan have no alternative for protecting our people from further attack — only wishful thinking that if we renounce violence, others will too.

No chance here. We're not dealing with adversaries who can be persuaded to meet us halfway. If we don't take the fight to them, they'll keep bringing it to us.

Some critics of our military response say we brought terrorism on ourselves with colonialism, oppressive trade policies and recalcitrance on environmental protection and arms control.

Such self-flagellation in the face of mass murder has the ring of a domestic abuse victim who blames herself instead of her abuser. ("If only I wouldn't make him so mad, maybe he'd stop hitting me.")

Besides, these are not the issues that drive Osama bin Laden and his followers. They fight us as infidels for our open society that, among other things, recognizes religious freedom and treats men and women as equals.

They won't relent until we leave their part of the world totally and forever, something we can't do for many reasons — not the least of which is that our absence would leave extremists free to develop powerful weapons of mass destruction that would expose us to more danger than ever.

It's simplistic to say that fighting back only escalates the violence and doesn't deter terrorism.

The air campaign already has destroyed the terrorist training infrastructure in Afghanistan that made possible the sophisticated attacks of Sept. 11.

Bin Laden's al-Qaida and its Taliban patrons are on the run. The more time they spend ducking 5,000-pound "bunker buster" bombs and hiding from our special forces, the less time they spend plotting our demise. Other governments are less inclined to harbor terrorists and risk the same fate as the Taliban.

We should take no satisfaction from this violence and insist that our leaders act with a sharp focus on self-defense that limits the suffering of innocents. The Bush administration has shown reasonable caution so far.

And there are things to do beyond the fighting. We should demand that Israel repay our support by being more generous in settling differences with Palestinians. We should finally recognize that it's in our profound national interest to reduce our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

But our first duty is to make the cost prohibitive for thugs to ever again break into our house and slaughter our family. Maybe then my young friend can sleep without fear.

David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net