Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2004 / 27 Elul, 5764
Frightened observation from the streets of New York City
MANHATTAN Last Friday, while Chechen terrorists were still holding schoolchildren and their parents hostage in Beslan, I took a pair of shoes to the cobbler on my street.
"Are you Russian?" I asked him, suspecting his accent.
"Yes," he confirmed, as he replaced the lifts on my heels.
"I'm so sorry about what's happening in your country," I offered. Three years ago, I appreciated foreigners' expression of sympathy for the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, which leveled my father's office in the World Trade Center but mercifully spared his life. But the cobbler's reply stunned and offended me.
"Stalin did a lot of bad things," the cobbler responded blandly. "But he got it right with the Chechens."
Stalin physically exterminated half of them by 1944, starving and shooting them to death as he moved them out of their homeland. The cobbler's quiet rage reminded me that Russians are going through the same kind of grief Americans were going through three years ago this weekend, even though Beslan's casualties were one-tenth of America's.
The fact that half those casualties were children magnifies the toll many times over, of course. Stalin's wholesale rounding up of the Chechens was unforgivable, but the cobbler's larger point probably, hopefully was that preemptive action is the only way to prevent terrorist attacks.
"Beslan could happen here in a heartbeat; there's nothing we could do to prevent it," is the frightened observation repeated most often on the streets of New York City, where visual remembrances of Sept. 11, 2001, grow sparser year by year. With the exception of Ground Zero and the occasional fire truck stenciled with its fallen firefighters' names, there's nary a reminder these days.
What can be done to prevent the horrors of Beslan and of Sept. 11?
The Communist Party in Russia, which is alive and well and putting out press releases, thinks it could have prevented Beslan peacefully. According to The New York Times, it blamed the Chechen terrorist act on "economic breakdown; amassed social problems; unemployment; a high crime rate; corruption, in particular in law enforcement departments; endless and thoughtless reforms of law enforcement departments; neglected inter-ethnic problems; weakening cultural relations between the peoples of this country; and the mistakes made in Chechnya."
The Communists still see the world as a struggle between haves and have-nots. If only people had more wealth, they wouldn't behave savagely. If only people had more power, they wouldn't behave murderously. If only there had been more dialogue, things would have gone better.
The Communist lie is that evil will disappear if resources are reshuffled properly. All of history is economic, they believe. National and religious hatred can be dissolved if we could only make the world classless.
This is naive. Strong, decisive, preemptive action is required when fighting terrorists, and sometimes that action will be unilateral, if traditional allies can't be persuaded. That is why Vice President Dick Cheney was absolutely within the bounds of reasonable discourse when he suggested that a Kerry administration would leave Americans more vulnerable to another attack.
Kerry makes no bones about it: He is the candidate of endless negotiations, bargaining, multilateral decision-making and second chances. The rest of the world might prefer a Kerry Presidency to a Bush Presidency because Kerry represents a weaker, more docile America.
Cheney didn't guarantee another attack wouldn't take place on Bush's watch. He did not make the mistake the vain Gen. Wesley Clark did when he was running for the Democratic Presidential nomination, telling a New Hampshire newspaper: "If I'm President of the United States, I'm going to take care of the American people . . . Nothing is going to hurt this country not bioweapons, not a nuclear weapon, not a terrorist strike there is nothing that can hurt us if we stay united . . .
Cheney simply pointed out that one administration will keep terrorists disorganized and on the run no matter what the cost and the other administration likely won't. Which odds do you prefer?
A smarmy left-wing advertisement posted on the Internet asks the question: "Smarter bombs, or smarter kids?"
Three years after Islamic militants struck New York and Washington, and just a week after schoolchildren were slaughtered by more Islamic terrorists, the answer seems perfectly clear to me: smarter kids. So they can grow up to drop those smarter bombs on terrorist training camps.
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© 2004, Bernadette Malone