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Enough Gandhi, already!

By Patrick O'Hannigan
web posted October 15, 2001

Are you still angry about what happened September 11? Do you find yourself annoyed by left-wing cartoonists and misguided pacifists who see nothing obscene about responding to mass murder as though it were an unfortunate consequence of bad foreign policy? Pull up a chair and I'll tell you a secret: anyone who quotes Gandhi in times like these cannot be trusted.

GandhiYou know the quote I mean. "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," said the great man. On the pacifist Rolodex, that pithy diagnosis of the problem with Mosaic Law has gotten dog-eared with use lately. People mouthing Ghandian wit seem to confuse nonviolence with WD-40, as though pacifism were an all-purpose lubricant for global problems. Unfortunately for that point of view and anyone hostage to it, terrorism makes Gandhian pacifism suicidal.

Open a history book sometime and you'll find that Gandhi turned English law and English concepts of justice to his own advantage. He was able to use nonviolent fasting as an effective strategy for shaming the British into leaving India. This worked because even at its height, the British Empire never condoned suicide bombing or promised instant heaven to people killed fighting for Queen Victoria.

Not long after Gandhi died, Martin Luther King, Jr. used nonviolence to energize the civil rights movement in America, where it succeeded for much the same reason. People recognized the struggle for civil rights as an appeal to the better angels of our nature. Had equality before the law not been consistent with American principle, nonviolent attempts to achieve it would have failed. Needless to say, neither Gandhi nor MLK ever faced the Taliban, and yet some fools suggest that any military response to their fascist brand of Islam makes us terrorists, too. What bunk.

As anyone who teaches civics would know, the Bill of Rights does not actually grant rights to American citizens; it only lists rights that we already have by describing what the government cannot do. With that in mind, one of the few tasks that the Constitution actually grants to the federal government is the duty to protect American citizens.

Given that Osama bin Laden and his ilk have said publicly that every able-bodied Muslim has a "sacred" duty to kill Americans and Jews, the Marine Corps is better equipped to protect us than the Peace Corps. That the U.S government has a long history of demonizing its opponents doesn't make the Taliban any less dangerous.

I agree with those who say that we ought to stop sending American troops all over the world, but as William Saletan and a few others have implied, blaming America for an attack of the kind we saw September 11 makes as much sense as blaming a battered wife for the beatings she gets from her husband.

The pacifists pleading for restraint seem not to realize that no one in political power has threatened to nuke those countries most hospitable to terrorists. Democrats and Republicans alike have taken pains to say that we are at war with terrorism rather than with Islam. How much more restrained can you get?

Still the peaceniks are with us. Violence only breeds more violence, they say, forgetting that violence thwarted Hitler and Hirohito in ways that diplomacy could not. Turn the other cheek, they say, wondering why Jesus never told the Roman centurion of gospel fame to resign from the army if he wanted true faith. The voices of compassion are being drowned out, they say, and by that they mean that it happens here in this country rather than there in Pakistan and Iran, where rallies in support of the United States went largely unreported.

The newspaper that chronicles "pathways to sustainable living and positive solutions" in my town published a twenty-four page special supplement jammed with allegedly unpopular perspectives on the war. Not to be outdone, the head of a group misnamed Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting complains about pundits who scream for innocent Arab blood. These views are commonplace in a local coffee house where anti-war posters have displaced advertisements for stress reduction and yoga classes. Meanwhile, the Reuters wire service no longer calls the men who attacked America "terrorists" for fear of offending people who call them "freedom fighters." Has no one asked why views like these get a hearing if this country has as many bigots as deluded leftists seem to think? Let me be the first to pose the question.

It is true that the editor of National Review wants to "end Iraq" as part of this new war on terrorism, but his views and those of some talk radio callers testify indirectly to the intelligence of the average American. As they say in Debating 101, a proposition that everyone agrees with is a proposition for which no argument is needed.

Neither Osama bin Laden nor I want American troops in Saudi Arabia, but bin Laden is a multimillionaire related to the Saudi royal family. If he wanted to be smart about influencing American foreign policy, he would do what China did and buy his way into discussions. A team of lobbyists and some full-page ads in major newspapers would get American troops home faster than killing almost seven thousand innocent people.

Those who downplay the horror of mass murder because the United States is not yet the beacon of peace and justice that it should be are, as one writer says, too philosophical for polite company. One look at charitable giving per capita and who provides disaster relief worldwide should convince even cynics that in spite of its faults, this country already does more than its share of visualizing world peace. If you really want to know whether our way of life depends on the suffering of others, the answer is an emphatic no, and the corollary to that answer is that armed fanatics are too dangerous to reason with.

Pacifists looking for a role model in their own ranks for these troubled times would do well to remember Sergeant Alvin York. Were he alive today, that World War One hero might point out that Special Forces operatives are now doing as much to keep the rest of us alive as doctors and firefighters do. Even as we pray for peace and guard against freedom-grabbing federal initiatives, we should remember that sometimes Churchill makes more sense than Gandhi.

Patrick O'Hannigan is a technical writer and self-styled paragraph farmer who writes a monthly column for New Times in San Luis Obispo, CA. He has also written for

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