The Spiral of Vengeance
AT some point, moral and creative intelligence is going to have to break with suicidal stereotypes and devise an alternative to the language of vengeance, especially in the affairs of nations. The recent report of the seven-member Presidential Commission assigned to investigate the crash of Pan Am Flight 103 is an unhappy example of the fallacy of coping through revenge. According to chairman Ann McLaughlin, the commission recommended a strategy of retaliating with force against countries supporting or sheltering terrorists. Behind the recommendation was the argument that the only language understood by terrorists is the language of force.
The commission repeats one of the prime errors in history. It substitutes vengeance for intelligence. It assumes the other side can be intimidated by the same means that have failed to intimidate in the first place. It doesn't tell us why a policy of retaliation is apt to be any more successful for us than it has been with the Israelis and the Arabs.
We can recall the sequence of events that involved the abduction and assassination of the young Israeli Olympic athletes at Munich in 1972. Those athletes were in no way involved with government policy; they were completely removed from the swirl of international politics. That they should have been the innocent victims of such a monstrous crime produced shock waves of revulsion throughout the world. The Arab guerrillas justified their action as vengeance for the imprisonment of 200 of their colleagues by the Israeli government. They said their purpose was to hold the Olympic athletes as hostages for the release of their comrades. They declared their action was dictated by the fact that Israelis understand only the language of force.
Within a few days after the Munich massacre, Israeli planes swept deep into Lebanon and Syria, bombing and strafing Arab villages. No evidence was offered that the people in these villages had any connection with the Arab terrorists. The random nature of the killing was both an act of vengeance and a stern warning against further terrorist crimes.
How did the deaths of the Arab villagers compensate for the deaths of the young Israelis? How did explosives rained out of the sky on Arab villages ease the grief of the athletes' relatives? Did the bombing discourage further acts of Arab terrorism and revenge?
Another example of the folly of such policies is in Northern Ireland. No aspect of that turmoil is more dramatic or horrifying than the mirror view each side has of the other. Irish Roman Catholics may deplore the bombing and assassinations by the IRA, but they say the only language Ulster Protestants understand is the language of force. Protestants justify the extreme measures used by police by contending the only language understood by Irish Catholics is the language of force.
Murder of innocent people is the prime characteristic and ultimate obscenity of terrorism. When the US retaliated against Libya in 1986 by bombing the capital, it succeeded in winning the numbers game by killing more innocent people than had been killed by the Libyan terrorists in Berlin. Was Qaddafi tamed by the American bombing? The effect on Qaddafi was not a sudden ascent into morality and responsibility but an intensified resolve to humiliate the US.
Is there, then, no way to deal with terrorists? The best chance - perhaps the only chance - is through a well-organized international collective security system; in short, a fully integrated world organization that can utilize all its resources, especially economic and political, to deal with international criminality.
Here the bugaboo of national sovereignty blocks common sense. The paradox is that, by clinging to notions of unfettered national sovereignty at a time when the world has become a single geographic unit, we succeed not in protecting our sovereignty but in embracing the sovereignty of the cave.
The human race has gone as far as its own safety will permit in allowing national sovereignties to serve as the ultimate form of political organization. National sovereignties must no longer be allowed to make judgments that affect all life on this planet. Important decisions on a world scale can no longer be dictated by narrow tribal concerns.
As a language, vengeance is as infantile as it is volatile. It has a severely limited vocabulary; it impedes thought. The new language of world globalism can draw upon abundant resources, beginning with the whole of human experience. It can find words that can turn men's minds to those approaches that give them access to their own survival.