Bombs, TheBus And Lasting Peace

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - July 13, 2005

I was heartened last week at the sight of Gov. Linda Lingle, Mayor Mufi Hannemann, Honolulu Police Chief Boisse Correa and State Adjutant Gen. Robert Lee assuring us that greater security precautions were being taken on TheBus as a result of the terrorist attacks in London.

On the advice of the Department of Homeland Security, Lingle raised the state’s threat level from yellow to orange, which — in the parlance of Homeland Security — means “Watch out!” Or, in Lingle’s words, “We do not want to alarm the public, but we want everyone to be alert and vigilant.” So check out your seatmate; look over your shoulder; watch for bags with tell-tale wires hanging out.

I do not mean to make light of this, but there is a closing-thedoor- after-the-horse-is-alreadyout- of-the-barn quality to it all. As I write, 50 plus Londoners are dead, more than 20 others are on the critical list, and few in London, Rome or Washington doubt that there will be more terrorist attacks in the months and years ahead.

Simply put, they can’t be stopped. Aside from pat-searching every single person who gets on TheBus, there is no way to stop people who will strap bombs to their bodies or stuff them into backpacks and explode them in the name of a deeply held belief.

Terrorism is the weapon of the defenseless against the powerful. And while British Prime Minister Tony Blair and United States President George W. Bush may fulminate against their “barbarism” and “the evil in their hearts,” I doubt that a single terrorist who flew an airliner into a skyscraper or who detonated a bomb hidden under his shirt on a bus saw himself as “barbaric” or “evil.”

One of the wisest observations I ever heard came from the late Mary George, for years a Republican state senator from Windward Oahu. In conversation one day in her Capitol office, I was fulminating against the evil of some politician or another.

George looked at me with the patience of the wise for the witless and said: “Dan, no one I’ve ever met in this building rises in the morning, looks in the mirror, and sees a villain. Every one of them sees a hero staring back at them in the mirror. An intelligent, righteous hero.”

Same’s true, in spades, with the people who get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and prepare to blow themselves up in the name of some cause or another.

At the beginning of the 21st century, we Americans — triumphant in the Cold War, possessed of a robust economy and a democratic (if apathetic) polity — stand, for the moment at least, as the last superpower. We have it within our means to roll over countries like Afghanistan and Iraq — and, if our current political leadership is to be believed, outmuscle Korea and Iran and anyone else who gets in our way as well. We can outgun anybody.

So where does that leave the radical Islamic hero who disagrees with us? On a bus or a train with an easily hidden bomb prepared to kill himself and destroy as many and as much as he can. And there’s little that Tony Blair, George W., Gov. Lingle, Adj. Gen. Lee, the mayor, or Chief Correa can do to stop it.

No, we must wed some humility to the power and wealth we wield — the humility to figure out why that suicide bomber sees a hero in the mirror, why he would kill those of us who champion democracy, free trade, and humane values around the world: in short, why he would kill people who also see heroes in the mirror every morning.

Karl Rove, the brilliant Republican strategist who turns Purple Heart winners into lying traitors and draft dodgers into fearless warrior kings, has characterized attempts to understand Islamic militants as offering weak-kneed “therapy.”

Nope,Mr. Rove, you may win, but you’re still wrong. Long-term peace in this world, and stability in the Middle East, will rest on one-part economic and military strength, one-part constant negotiation by the best — not the most ideological — amongst us, one-part superior intelligence, and two-parts knowledge and understanding of why the other guy sees a hero in the mirror.

That’s five-part harmony, but minus those last four parts, all the firepower in the world and a bank of blinking orange lights ain’t gonna keep TheBus safe.

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