The Art Of Surgical Terror

The Art Of Surgical Terror

NYC Combat Correspondent Diary--by--Cliff McKenzie--October 8, 2001

GROUND ZERO, Oct. 8-- I am at Union Square in Manhattan.  Around me  is a Peace rally.  Hundreds of people carry signs.  Loud Voices bellow from the bandstand shell about the war's ugliness.  But the crowd is quiet, comfortable.  There is no rabid frothing.   No chanting:  “Hell no, we won’t go.”   It is as though someone dampened the spark of anti-war protest.

I am not there to batter war or promote peace.   I am there to find our daughter and son-in-law and grandchildren and see if my wife, Lori, and I can help out our peace-advocate daughter and her husband, both of whom subscribe to the doctrine of non-violence.  Help means watch the kids.  Be there if a riot breaks out to protect the children.   Crowds always bother me.

On the way into the crowd, surrounded by meager metal fences, I looked into a man’s eyes.  He was a borderline “street-crazy” New Yorker.   His eyes were filled with something other than normal.  He had that distant look.  I wondered if he had an Uzi under his coat, or a bomb strapped around his chest.  He was sweating, eyes darting around.   Something in me wanted to knock him to the ground, pin his arms, yell for the police.  But I stuffed it.  Paranoia was gripping me.   

I am a former Marine.  I cannot honestly throw away my sword for the wreath of peace.  I believe in fighting to death those evil forces which threaten my family, my children, my grandchildren, my neighbors, my community, my nation.   That part of me is set in cement.   I cannot change that.  I don’t want to.  I just want to control it.   As I did with the wild-eyed man.  I didn’t attack him, restrain him.

I am getting much older and softer.  The peace lovers do not bother me as they once did.  I don’t want to take their faces and rub them in the blood of my brothers who died to support their right to protest—young boys who fought for the Principles of Freedom, who died for them.   I do not want to smash my fist in the chanter’s mouths, who decry America, or debase the military.  Instead, I move through the throngs of people with their anti-war signs, saying “excuse me,”  “excuse me,” as I politely shove my way closer to our children and grandchildren.  I am pleasantly surprised to see so many American flags tacked onto the anti war signs...and, no US Flags are being burned.  That makes me feel good.

Lori, and I see the kids.  Sophia, the three-year-old, is riding on our daughter's shoulders, waving.   Joe, her father, is waving his battered baseball hat.   Our mission is near completion--to take the kids to the playground, have fun with them while the protestors protest.

As we embrace, my daughter tells me the U.S. started bombing runs at noon.   I did not know it had started--the retaliation.   I do not blink an eye.    I had expected it.

But I cringe inside.   I know Terrorism will not die in the rubble of a few attacks, or millions of them.  I worry about the Terrorist retaliation—the ones who are here in America, waiting for orders, not the ones where we’re dropping bombs.

I think of dominoes.   One falling upon the other.   I hope my grandchildren will not suffer the effect.  I would gladly die so they would be left safe.   I am tired of war and Terrorism anyway.   I feel sad.   Maybe one day we will all be vigilant enough to end the Terror, but I doubt it.  The pessimist in me rules at the moment. I think Evil will never die.  Terrorism will never die.   It can only be managed, contained, constrained.  I know.  I have struggled a lifetime to manage all forms of Terror--most from within.  I would give anything that my grandchildren would not know such Fear.   But the Terrorists have injected it into our veins--contaminated my grandchildren with its virulence.  We worry about Anthrax, Smallpox.  But what about Fear?   What about Intimidation?  What about Anxiety?  What about Complacency?   Which of these pestilences  is greater than Anthrax?

I try not to think about the issues.  I can’t stop the wheels grinding in my mind. I hear the words:  “Semper Vigilantes!”  “Semper Vigilantes!” ringing as I look at the grandkids, study the wave of young people’s heads bobbing up and down in a cluster of anti-war souls, trying to put a halt into a massive machine of war that only knows how to kill, not how to resolve.

We take the kids to the swings and sandbox playground.  It is relatively safe. The kids climb innocently on the monkey bars, with other children who care only about their imaginations, about the joy of a freedom from worry about food, clothing, warmth, love.  They are playing dinosaurs and monsters.    Adam, our five-year-old grandson, wants me to climb into the monkey bar cage, but I am too big.  I growl at him in play, for I am the big bear and he is the dinosaur.  Sophia is playing in the sand.   GMa Lori is watching.   I can hear the protester’s din filtering over our way.   I try and not listen.

My daughter, Sabra, the kids’ mother, comes into the playground.  Joe, her husband, stays at the rally.  A parent watching his daughter play with Adam and the other kids starts to talk to us about how he is going to stay at home--isolate himself from the madness.   We try to talk, but he is busy gushing out his feelings...about how he really doesn't the government is just doing Wall Street will rise up as war he is going to isolate in his apartment with his big TV and watch movies and invest in defense stocks.

I turn away, deciding not to try to convince him that Semper Vigilantes is much better than Semper Complacency.   I listen to the kids playing monsters.   Chasing each other.  Saying "boo" and "growling."   Laughing.  Playing.   Their innocence is such a brutal contrast to the lack of it in the world at the moment.

Thousands of miles away America is bombing an enemy--well, one we have manufactured without any real court of justice, any real trial, any representation.   Our President declared war into a television camera.   I haven't seen an indictment with evidence I can attest to...except a bunch of hyperlinks leading to this bin Laden fellow.   Not that I deny he is the one—I think he is—he is the most prominent one.  But I don’t know.  Nobody has proof.   I even heard a rumor it was the Japanese making it look like bin Laden.   I wish I felt definitive.   I wish I didn’t have these obnoxious doubts.

I went to law school a few years ago to learn about law--after years of working with it--and I am amazed we are bombing someone without full agreement of the courts of natural law...without clear evidence presented to the US citizenry that this man was directly responsible.   I wouldn't care if it was all faked.  But I didn't cast a vote "yea" or "nay" for such action.  I can’t justly tell my grandchildren this is a “righteous war” against a “distinct criminal.”   That bothers me a lot.

I think of a totalitarian state.   I think of a government that takes action without the people's consent.   I guess the government did a lot of opinion polls and figured no one would really contest such action.   No one would stop to think if they were the one accused of such a crime,  they would expect due process from the American Judicial Systems before they were executed.   But that isn’t a popular viewpoint.   That rubs the country’s thirst for revenge the wrong way.

Not that it bothers me to kill killers.   I have no problem with that.   If they proved to me bin Laden was the true culprit, I would cut out his heart in a flash...make him die a miserable death.   But I would only kill to protect my children, my grandchildren, and others children.  I would only do it if I was sure this evil man was planning more attacks on innocent women and children.   I just haven’t convicted him in my mind—not absolutely.

There is just enough doubt in my mind to make me wonder if we are all turning our heads too quickly and letting the government kill in our name without properly justifying their actions to us--the citizen jury.  I want to see the President present all the evidence, debate it, tell us what we are doing is risking the Constitution's principles, but we’re acting anyway, and any harm done to the Constitution must be repaired.   But I don’t hear that.  I don’t see that on the horizon.  

I am especially uneasy because Lori and I just came from the movie Training Day.  I felt queasy after seeing it.  Cops became animals.  They killed with moral not legal justification.  They became God.   Then they turned into the evil they killed.    I walked out of the movie with a sick feeling.  A sense of hopelessness.  Our defenders became our Terrorists.  

The movie made me play into Terrorism's hands.  Terrorism wants me to feel bad, to be focused on the corruption—the killing of innocent victims.

I was confused.   We attack the enemy and then drop humanitarian supplies.    It made no sense.   It made no sense because I had seen it not make sense—trying to assuage violence with non-violence.

In Vietnam the government had a special program.  As we went through villages and destroyed them, an officer was assigned to pay for the collateral damage.  He carried a thick list of papers with the price of various items on it.  As we destroyed huts and water buffalo and cooking utensils, and clothing—he would meet with the village chief and pay him in cash for the damage.

I asked him what he was doing.  He said it was an “instant reparation program.”   I asked him what the price was of a fourteen-year-old Vietnamese girl.   He shook his head and told me human life was not included, and wanted to know why I asked.  I told him we had accidentally shot a fourteen-year-old girl in addition to the water buffalo he just paid the village chief for, and wondered if we should pay the girl’s mother and father.  I almost got court-martialed that day for insubordination.   But the irony of it all was too much for me.   As it was this day, between the bombing and the peace rally and the grandkids. In Vietnam we bombed villages, mortared them, shelled them, machine gunned them...then went in with medical aid to tend the wounded and maimed--the innocents always caught in the crossfire.   We yelled "kill, kill, kill" and then when we walked through the rubble we yelled "medic, medic, medic."

I call this Surgical Terrorism.  

That's what I thought was happening now, thirty five years after I had left the war zone.  We are attacking and killing from a slightly higher moral ground than the Terrorists who attacked us.  Or were we?  Both attacks were out of revenge.  

 I wondered what cap they would put on the war.   When we had killed the six-thousand human bodies in retribution for our own loss, would it end?   I wondered if there was some sick sonofabitch somewhere counting the dead, so he or she could jump up with joy when we had wiped out an equal number.    But then I figured that whomever was keeping score wouldn't be the kind of person who would give equal weight to one of them for one of us...maybe it took two or three of them, or maybe four or five of them, to equal one of us.  That would mean we'd have to kill 12,000 or 30,000 before we were even, until justice was served.   After all, they were third-world people.   Primitive by our standards of civilized killing.  It took us a number of years, but we killed over one million people in Vietnam for the price of our 50,000.   That was a 20:1 ratio.   Would we use the same for bin Laden?

I felt the scalpel of Terrorism cutting into my heart.  I was feeling compassion for the bad guy.

I didn't like it.

I felt like I was almost siding with the Terrorists...defending them.  I wasn't.  I was just realizing how corrupt we all could be to seek revenge without some limitations.   I had no idea what they were.   I didn’t even know if our war was legal.  All I knew was everyone was supporting revenge, retaliation.   And anyone who spoke out in defense of the attack was Un-American.  

I thought about the word, Surgical Terrorism.    It sounded so cool, so neat, so civilized.   The Terrorists had used it  on us.  They had slipped in silently and stabbed the tip of their sword at two big targets, then escaped.   It was indeed a surgical attack.   

We were retaliating with the same surgical precision, with smart bombs, but in a larger, more devastating way.

 I looked at my grandkids playing.   They weren't too much different than the little kids thousands of miles away huddling in caves with their parents, or what was left of them, waiting for our "surgical strikes" to end.

I grabbed my grandson and gave him a hug.   He looked at me with his big blue eyes, wondering why the big bear had him held so tightly.

"Do you want to play monster, GPA?" he asked.

"Not right now, Adam..."  I said, wanting to play love and hug....but knowing the five-year-old wasn't into love and hug games.  He liked monster games.   "Maybe later?"

"You make a great monster, GPa.  You're very scary."  Adam smiled at me.  He was proud his GPa was so scary looking.  I was his private monster—six-foot three, two-hundred and sixty pounds, deep growling Voice.

"Yea, I'm scary," I growled in pretense.

And in my mind, I realized how the monster of Terrorism was playing with us.  It was like Training Day.  It was turning us into the Evil we fought to protect others from.   I hoped we wouldn’t be assimilated.  

I didn’t want my grandson to grow up to be a monster.


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