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Jewish World Review June 17, 2002 / 7 Tamuz, 5762

Andy Rooney

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War is heaven | Just when it seemed as though the people who make war had invented every possible device with which to kill people, we're faced with a strange new weapon that is not a device but a method -- terrorism.

We thought we'd found the ultimate way to kill with the nuclear bomb. Now we've come up with an even more terrible form of warfare. Terrorism is a new way to kill. There have been isolated incidents in the past 20 years but the newness of it is the willingness of terrorists to die for their cause. Before, the enemy was as interested in survival as we were. There were things each side knew the other would not do in combat because of some immutable law of self-preservation. The only time that unwritten law had been broken was when Japanese kamikaze pilots willingly died for their G-d and their country.

Soldiers have been finding new ways to kill each other since the beginning of recorded history. They were probably finding ways before that, too. The early wars between armies in ancient Greece were clumsy battles. The front line of an attacking force was made up of men in horse-drawn, armored chariots. As the two forces clashed, hand-to-hand battles were fought by soldiers behind the chariots who carried the latest tools of war-battle axes, swords, shields, spears, dart throwers and bows. Those weapons must have engendered the same fear terrorism evokes in us today.

Somewhere around the year 1200, the evil Mongolian Genghis Khan put his troops on horseback. This enabled him to conquer the entire known world.

When Genghis Khan got to China, he was temporarily slowed by Chinese fortifications and soldiers who were more intelligent than his troops. To defeat them, Khan adopted a new tactic that made use of the Chinese soldiers' reverence for family. He captured thousands of women, children and old men, and then, when his troops advanced, Khan forced the captives to walk in front of his soldiers. This provided a phalanx that could only be penetrated if the Chinese chose to kill their own.

Around the same time, the Chinese invented gunpowder but used it more for firecrackers than in weapons. They were ineffective against Khan's ruthless advance and as many as 18 million Chinese, a substantial percentage of the number of people living then, were killed.

There was relatively little progress made in ways to kill people for hundreds of years after explosion-propelled missiles were invented. The Civil War wasn't fought with weapons much different from anything invented hundreds of years before.

In World War I, the armored tank struck fear into the hearts of infantrymen, but the tank turned out to be a paper tiger, as often a crematorium for its crew as an offensive aid to the infantry.

The Germans were the first to use a chemical weapon when they released mustard gas in World War I in front of a wind that wafted it toward French lines. The gas sickened some French soldiers but its course was so unpredictable that it was ineffective.

Aircraft were used in combat for the first time in World War I. A German plane and one zeppelin dropped small bombs on England but neither was capable of carrying anything large enough to do serious damage. Air action was limited to the romantic dogfights between men like the Luftwaffe's legendary Red Baron Von Richthofen and American ace Eddie Rickenbacker.

War came of age in World War II, when aircraft capable of carrying tons of bombs could destroy whole cities. Even high-explosive bombs turned out to be a relatively inefficient method of mass destruction once the United States developed nuclear weapons and dropped two on Japan.

When men were reluctant to die in the process of killing, it was possible to understand war. The newest threat to civilization -- terrorism -- is as frightening as any of its predecessors. And it won't be the last.

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