E-mail begs response

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By KEVIN KOELLING, Managing Editor

I recently received an e-mail message from several people I consider friends and whose opinions and intelligence I respect. I disagreed with its content, however, and had some responses I wanted to share. Their message is the bold text and my responses are in plain text.

Thought you might like to read this letter to the editor of a British national newspaper. Ever notice how some people just seem to know how to write a letter?

Written by a housewife, to her daily newspaper. This is one ticked off lady. Are we fighting a war on terror or aren’t we?

We are, allegedly. When decisions of national importance are influenced by people who can make money by selling military hardware or getting access to oil sources, it’s difficult to say what we are really fighting.

Was it or was it not started by Islamic people who brought it to our shores July (7) 2002, and in New York Sept. 11, 2001 and have continually threatened to do so since?

That, too, is more difficult to answer than it would seem. Any suggestion that they may have felt they had a reason to hurt us (as it no doubt will at this very moment) is met with screams of “traitor!” I’m not suggesting criminals should be coddled or even reasoned with. But we have a tendency to see nothing beyond “we were attacked.” America’s hands have been stained with the blood of others from its beginning, from the indigenous peoples we exterminated here to those whose nations we have occupied between then and now.

Were people from all over the world, not brutally murdered that day in London, and in downtown Manhattan, and in a field in Pennsylvania? Did nearly three thousand men, women and children die a horrible, burning or crushing death that day, or didn’t they?

They were and they did, and those were horrible days. That they occurred doesn’t excuse our inflicting injury or death on even a single innocent human. We would be right in inflicting punishment on those who caused the deaths — those who hijacked the planes, had they lived, and anyone else involved in the planning, training and so forth. But we Americans tend to think of people in other countries or of other religions as less than human and responsible for the crimes committed by others of their kind.

And I’m supposed to care that a few Taliban were claiming to be tortured by a justice system of the nation they come from and are fighting against in a brutal insurgency.

You will care about that which you determine to be important. Important to me is that “tortured by a justice system” seems to be a self-contradictory phrase. We could define “justice system” in a neutral way, as we would if we were comparing those of the USSR and the USA, for example. In normal usage, however, “justice” has a positive meaning that doesn’t include torture. The phrase, “truth, justice and the American way” has been used in cartoons, but is deeply meaningful to many of us. Torture has been shown to be a poor tool in eliciting truth — the reason given for its employment — and neither justice nor the American way ever allowed for it, until recently.

On the subject of definitions, “brutal insurgency” is an interesting phrase that seems to connote an evil intent. “Insurgency” also has a neutral meaning. If our nation were to be occupied by the military forces of a foreign country, would we not become insurgents, and would that term not have a positive, even patriotic meaning? Why would we apply a different standard to others?

I’ll start caring when Osama bin Laden turns himself in and repents for incinerating all those innocent people on 9/11 and 7/7.

I would like to know how your concern for bin Laden will change if he were to do that. I find it difficult to imagine forgiveness will be a result.

I’ll care about the Koran when the fanatics in the Middle East start caring about the Holy Bible, the mere belief of which is a crime punishable by beheading in Afghanistan.

I don’t recall anyone ever asking anyone else to “care about the Koran.” I like the expectation that we treat others as we wish to be treated. Your statement seems to imply that because another group of people carries hatred in their hearts, our own is justified.

I’ll care when these thugs tell the world they are sorry for hacking off Nick Berg’s head while Berg screamed through his gurgling, slashed throat.

Again, what you care about is your business alone, but I find it difficult to believe that your opinion of that despicable, cowardly act will change. Mine never will.

I’ll care when the cowardly so-called “insurgents” in Afghanistan come out and fight like men instead of disrespecting their own religion by hiding in mosques and behind women and children.

I agree. If someone wants to wage war against us, they should not endanger innocent lives. Nor should they commit acts which put our soldiers in situations that limit their ability to protect innocent lives.

I’ll care when the mindless zealots who blow themselves up in search of Nirvana care about the innocent children within range of their suicide bombs.

I will, too. I will appreciate any step in the direction of ending the suffering or death of innocent people.

I’ll care when the British media stops pretending that their freedom of speech on stories is more important than the lives of the soldiers on the ground or their families waiting at home to hear about them when something happens.

Many Americans have given their lives in defense of the list of freedoms we hold dear, including that of speech. I can think of no more important a freedom. I suspect the above statement contains underlying beliefs such as, “we should accept as truth whatever the government tells us,” and “thou shalt not question thine government.” Those who support war without questioning its necessity or morality or any of the tactics employed in waging it, such as torture or “extraordinary rendition” feel free to speak up against any government action to which they object.

The author of the e-mail message goes on to explain he or she doesn’t care about a number of other things, and my fear is that many people who read the words don’t really consider the consequences of the ideas behind them.

I would like to see us focus on ideas that can make a people, us or any others, great:

  • Again, we treat each other as we wish to be treated.
  • We use the means at our disposal to prevent attacks.
  • We wage war only when we’re absolutely certain we’ve exhausted all other means for resolving differences.
  • We set examples for humane behavior and encourage others to join us in the effort, which in the past has included pacts such as the Geneva Conventions. We don’t lower ourselves to whatever standard becomes convenient for the moment.
  • We remain willing to make the sacrifices necessary to guard our liberties, as have so many who gave lives and limbs for the ones we’ve allowed to slip from our grasp.