I watched an interesting programme last night on the BBC about the Iranian Embassy siege of May 1980 in London. For those of you not old enough to remember (I was only 5 at the time but I still remember the TV pictures), the aforementioned embassy was seized by Iranian terrorists taking many hostages in the heart of London. After failed negotiations and the execution of one of the hostages the SAS stormed the building and performed a very effective job of eliminating the terrorists with the loss of just one more hostage. Red-blooded males all across the country wanted to join the SAS and, more importantly, it sent a message to any would-be terrorists to not try anything in Britain if they wanted to live to tell the tale.
But thinking about the loss of life and seeing the ex-SAS men describing what they did reminded me how easy it is for my generation to take a civilised life for granted. I was born in 1974 and I’ve always lived in a relatively safe world. Political correctness has long since gone mad and we live in a world so cosseted from danger that I can’t even buy square-shaped tumblers because I might cut myself on the sharp edges and sue the manufacturers (true).
But the price for living in such a safe place was paid for long before I was born. Reading history books, watching films and seeing documentaries on TV will never properly convey the effect the second world war had on the generation who lived through it. From the wives, mothers and sisters on all sides who lost loved ones on distant shores. To those hiding in shelters every night on hearing the air-raid warning sirens. To those who worked the Burmese railway as POWs and survived. To the civilians who witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor. To the soldiers coming home – weary from war – having watched friends blown apart in front of their eyes knowing that they could never relay the horrors they witnessed. These people had seen their freedoms and way of life at risk and gone through hell to secure it.
I’ve seen a lot of war happen on television. There was the Falklands War (although I was too young to understand what was going on). For as long as I can remember I’ve watched news items talking about the war between the Israelis and Palestinians, closer to home were the many years of terrorism in Northern Ireland. There was the Gulf War which was pitched as more of a technological war (the thought of a war being fought without ground troops and casualties is the stuff of Star Wars, by the way). And there have been countless other conflicts like Somalia, Chechnya and Yugoslavia to name but a few.
It’s quite human to despise war and want to avoid it at all costs. Rational thinkers would argue that all war can and should be avoided by diplomacy and logic. But sadly this doesn’t always work. Once blood has been spilled, bitterness and hatred is the result. Taking the example of Israel and Palestine: so many family and friends have died on both sides that there are plenty of Palestinians willing to become a martyr to avenge their fallen comrades, and with so many suicide bombings Israelis are only to willing to sanction more military action against their evil foes. It’s easy to look back to 1945 and draw a line after the war and assume that life just went back to normal. But it’s not a simple as that. The people who survived were often bitter and had a great deal of animosity for those they fought against. They had to put those feelings aside and carry on a civilised life. And that’s the hard part.
If my brother had been killed by a terrorist bomb in Ireland – and his murderer released from prison after a few years under the Good Friday Agreement – I’d find it very hard to deal with him walking the streets a free man. Putting your faith in a system that goes against human emotions isn’t so easy when you’re at the sharp end. But it has to be done. Otherwise there’d never be peace.
I feel terrible for those who were affected by the terrorism of September 11th 2001, the survivors and families of the dead will never be the same again. But the responsibility of leaders of countries (such as the US) isn’t to go out seeking revenge – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It’s to do the right thing, bring those guilty to justice, deter such people from doing this sort of thing again and make its’ people feel safe and free. A certain amount of retribution is inevitable though.
From America’s point of view, going to Afghanistan to weed out Al Quaeda was the right thing to do – there were little alternatives. Many argued that giving aid to Afghanistan would have been a better approach than B-52s, but that’s naive. Western ideals and thinking go against the beliefs and way of lives of these people – the Taleban weren’t going to go peacefully. I just hope that in the aftermath Afghanistan can be helped to get back on the road again. Only time will tell if the actions taken were the right decisions and the right approach.
Make no mistake, peace is far harder than war. It’s easy to get an assault rifle or bomb and – armed with hatred and pictures of your family and friends being murdered in your head – kill people. It’s far harder to lead a “normal” life with those same feelings and mental pictures. Never underestimate the price of peace. It looks easy in the history books but the reality in the present is quite a different proposition. And it’s made from the blood of those who perished trying to get it.
We may live in gentler times, but sometimes violence has to be used to try to keep it that way. We shouldn’t forget that. Roses have thorns for a reason.