Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
September 11th ushered in, as a dominant legal theme, the concept of terrorism. The legal domain has utilized the phrase previously. SLA was alleged as domestic terrorism, but now the idea of terrorism is omnipresent. It is on everyone’s lips and we’re being marshaled, we’re being prepared as a culture to address it. I’m talking about the United States of America, to wage war on everyone and anyone that poses an alleged terrorist threat, and I guess what that means is anyone who, in any fashion, would do violence to us or to our cause or purpose or ally or resource. Accordingly, I find myself in a very ambivalent mood in reference to the concept.
Remember that we are brought to respect revolution, to achieve freedom, to achieve independence, to achieve liberty. We had our own war revolution. The French had their war revolution. Most South American countries had their own revolutions. We believe in overthrowing despotic, oppressive governments by revolution. It’s in our history. The concept of none dare call it treason if you win. It is imbedded in our mind from childhood forward. So holding that thought for a minute in abeyance: that we don’t deny the value of an armed revolution, we embrace it as part of our history and as part of the manifest method of changing unconscionable oppressive government.
Secondly, this might be naive, but I think implicitly when people go to West Point or Annapolis and study war or history of war and ways of making war, they are taught that (they must be) in order to win a war, you have to kill innocent people. That must be the way to wage war. That’s the way it’s always been waged, as horrible as it sounds. From tribal history, was kills the women and children of the enemy. We. America, the United States as culture, we unleashed the atomic bomb on Japan. We are the ones that mercilessly inundated Berlin. We just bombed the hell out of them. We killed everyone with the blockbusters back then. We killed countless civilians in the Second World War. I’m talking about man, woman and child, innocents, not soldiers, not military installations, not tank versus tank. I’m talking about killing innocent people – Britain did it in their colonization of half the world. The way you win is to kill innocent people. I don’t like it. I don’t subscribe to it. It’s abhorrent to me but I think that’s the way war is waged.
So let’s take these two above precepts I’ve just naively and obliquely referred to and apply them to terrorism. The United States Marines, I’m told, in the Second World War in the conquest of one of these Pacific Islands (It could be Iwagema), sent up two hundred and seventy Marines to take a hill where the Japanese had fortified themselves. Something like twenty or thirty survived. The rest were killed. It was a suicide mission. They knew when they charged, that most would die. So you see, we also use and cultivate in the ranks of our soldiers, suicide warriors like the Japanese kamikaze. We have them. They are called Marines. We honor them and respect them and love them and cherish them and it’s because they are willing to sacrifice their lives, for allegedly, our defense. They go through training. Some people will call it brainwashing. They are trained to surrender their lives and they are willing to do it, just like the so-called terrorist straps bombs to himself, walks into a bus, walks into a temple, walks into a church and blows himself up. It’s not dissimilar. Terrorism is not dissimilar to the way war has always been waged with suicide warriors, with infliction of death on innocent people and with an objective of freeing yourself from oppressive authority that constricts your liberty. You see, ideologically, I can’t draw much distinction between what the terrorists are doing and what we’ve done symbolically and actually over the course of our history: we, being the United States of America, and we, being the human race.
The issue is very complex for me. I’m one, Jewish; two, American; three, a pacifist; four, anti-military; five, somewhat anti-authority. So when I say I can empathize ideologically with acts of terrorism by analogizing them to our own revolutionary past and our own mode of making war, it’s not to say in any respect, I endorse killing civilians. I abhor it. It’s horrible. I just say that the human race is very brutal, very “survival of the fittest,’ very naturally selective – especially when waging war. And those who commit suicide as warriors are following in the footsteps of all warriors in all times that have preceded them with the same acts of sacrifice – these acts of violence against innocent people.
It is obvious that it has to end: it has to stop. It’s not the right way. It’s horrific. The right way is not to continue in acts of mass destruction, but we’re doing just that. Also, the United States of America is doing that with our airplanes and our bombs and our armaments. It won’t happen in my lifetime, but total cessation of all violence has to occur or this planet ultimately will self-destruct: not necessarily in acts of atomic weaponry, but in the aftermath of war which will ultimately taint and degenerate and pollute our planet.
So, I’m sorry to say that I’m not feeling so patriotic about going out and killing everybody. Sorry to say, I can understand and empathize with suicide bombers; sorry to say I understand it in its historical context. I’m sorry to say that if we fight fire with fire, we will burn. Simply, it’s the improper path.
We are all going to be watching. Let’s hope war doesn’t burn us all.
J. Tony Serra is a noted defense attorney who practices in San Francisco, California.