fw: the week from British eyes

From: Bill Douglass (bill_douglass@onebox.com)
Date: Wed Sep 19 2001 - 01:55:47 MDT

I share with you here a letter I got from a friend, a Scottish fellow
in his early thirties, with many years experience in the trenches of
international aid, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. I had asked him
for his candid opinion of 9.11 and its aftermath. I'm posting what he
wrote back on 9.15. I don't agree with everything he says, but I think
the letter is good enough to be worth reading and considering.

Best to all,


Dear Bill,

I hope you don't mind me cc'ing this reply; my brain works slowly and
I take a while to ponder these things. However, here is my take from
this side of the pond borrowing freely from the broadsheets of the week.

There is no doubt that Britain and Europe are 110% feeling for America
and its people and still numb from the appalling scale of the atrocities.
 In small ways and big, the week's events have been a focal point for
everyone to try and send their own message of support and defiance.

Yesterday at 11 (UK time), Britain stopped for 3 minutes silence - something
only really done to honour the dead of the 1st world war here, and even
then, only for 2 minutes, not 3. Up in this remote island, so distant
from the madness of the world, Mary and I and some friends, stood out
on the cottage steps in silence, and looking at the mountains sent our
own silent support for you all.

It maybe a small gesture, but the Formula 1 championship in Monza this
weekend is trying to race the cars with absolutely no sponsorship; as
sign of support for American business and people - an unheard of gesture
from a sport that is powerful and very rich. Elsewhere people are lighting
candles at pre-ordained times.....The Royal family and all politicians
held a special service of remembrance yesterday (To give you an idea
of the scale of shock and support, even when Lady Di died, nothing happened
on such a scale so fast).

You mentioned the emotion of Tony Blair in his initial speech and thereafter.
It is not contrived. He speaks on behalf of Britain, with a lump in his
throat for the people, and a slight shiver about the possible ramifications.

And it is this fear, that is becoming the focus of people's thoughts
(and most of my observations and newspaper articles below) here.

George W is not regarded highly at all. The fear, is that a man with
such miniscule worldy experience (to put it mildly), will precipitate
something even worse.

There is no suggestion that such horrific crimes could ever go unpunished,
but concern that the punishment will be along the lines of 'Hoo'ah, lets
kick some ass'; To declare "war" on terrorism will only encourage recruits
for terrorism - it makes it almost legal. George W is seen as too ready
to take the law into his own hands, to do his bit for the people, but
unwittingly start WW3.

America is not necessarily seen worldwide as a beacon of liberty but
as a beacon of greed and a military bully that undermines other cultures.
In the long term an adjustment of foreign policy (like blind support
of Israel, regardless of the hypocritical actions it carries out against
the Palestinians) to try and diffuse this hatred would be a good long
term investment. (It has even been mentioned that maybe now America will
understand British anger at continued american support for the
IRA....more people have been killed by the IRA - proportionate to population
-than the Manhattan and Pentagon atrocities, but Britain did not declare
war on Ireland, the IRA or even America for often harbouring the terrorists).
 If it is not this view of the 'Imperialist west', then what has the
West and America in particular done to incur such hatred?

But time and time again in articles and letters, is the repeated need
to observe the international rule of law and use it to deliver a "proportionate,
discriminate, but lethal blow to those held
responsible". Is it fair that Afghans or Iraqis feel the need to prepare
their country for war, or flee their country en masse? Is an eye for
an eye the correct response?

You may remember I have some personal experience of terrorism first hand.
 Personally, on a one to one basis, I would have been happy to be locked
in a room with the person responsible, and either understand him and/or
beat him to a pulp. But I would have run a mile, rather than agree that
the correct response would have been anything other than a mighty blow
against his (proven) terrorist organisation and its leader.

Tuesday's acts were not an act of war but criminal acts on a horrifying
scale. A 'warlike' response is not justified. To Joe Bloggs here, $20
billion is a huge amount to start a campaign, unless starting a 'war'
footing. But wars involve campaigns to gain control of territories and
populations with clearly identifiable protaganists....two wrongs do not
make a right.

"Nobody doubts America's power to visit unimaginable violence on others.
But to what end? The people are rightly angry, but surely not stupid.
They can distinguish determination from vengeance, caution from appeasement,
acts of will from acts of lunacy". Heart must not rule head in an issue
that could unleash carnage on a scale that would drive America back behind
barriers and borders for a generation or more.

The statesman's job is not to rant but to think - the reason Brits are
a little uneasy with the US leadership. Reasoned action is one thing,
but weakness is the thing that jerks the knee and drops The Bomb. After
all, suicidal madmen and lunatics are not 'deterred'. A great assault
on any Muslim state from the air will be an answer to a prayer for Bin
Laden and his like. The Manhattan slaughter would almost be legitimised
in some people's eyes. Furthermore, the British empire 'met its Waterloo'
in Afghanistan, as did the Russians....are the Americans about to follow?

Enough political observation my friend(s). This is the mood over here.
 A little nervous, especially as politically and militarily we stand
side by side with you guys; especially difficult as in effect we are
bystanders to the decisions the US leadership will take, but thereafter
will be involved.

The Britons have been attacked by (and have attacked) pretty well every
historical maurauder that lived. But we are still here. We thank everything
we believe in that we have our life and health today, that we have not
been direct witness to the appalling and needless destruction of this
week and continue to hold you in our thoughts. As many people have said,
if this is the world we live in, may God have mercy on us. It cannot
and must not continue, but likewise, the west cannot declare war on anyone
other than those directly and proven responsible. May this week be something
never to be seen again in our lifetime. May the response when it comes,
be something applauded worldwide as the right thing to do, not the trigger
to the destruction of the world that we know.

Anyway my friend, here ends the lesson according to The Times, Simon
Jenkins, Rich Postins and I. I hope it has nothing too surprising in
it, and is as candid as you requested.

With all my thoughts and support.


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