Responding To Terrorism

by | Sep 20, 2001 | LAW, Terrorism

He who turns the other cheek deserves what happens to it.

Objectivists are saying that this country retaliate to the September 11 attack on America by massive bombing of countries that have supported terrorism. In response, it is argued: This kind of “precipitous action” is not appropriate for the United States. The government of this country is based on the rule of law. Before anyone can be condemned, he must be found guilty in an objective proceeding. The rules of such a proceeding, implicitly and explicitly embedded in our Constitution, require that he be advised in advance of the charges against him, that he have a speedy and public trial, that he be confronted with the witnesses against him, that he may be represented by a lawyer, that he be given every opportunity to defend himself including the right to subpoena witnesses in his favor, and that he be convicted on the basis of reliable evidence by an impartial jury.

How, then, can this country justify the killing of people who have been afforded none of these protections?

Consider two fictional incidents.

The Trojan War occurred over 3000 years ago. During that War, two Greeks, Odysseus and Diomed, are looking for intelligence concerning their Trojan enemy. They capture a Trojan, Dolon (who was seeking intelligence of the Greeks for the Trojans). In an effort to avoid death, and under a promise from Odysseus that he will not be killed, Dolon gives the Greeks valuable information concerning the plans of the Trojans and the distribution of their forces. Then he seeks the benefit of his bargain:

Now, therefore, take me to the ships or bind me securely here, until you come back and have proved my words whether they be false or true.

But he does not get that benefit.

Diomed looked sternly at him and answered: “Think not, Dolon, for all the good information you have given us, that you shall escape now you are in our hands, for if we ransom you or let you go, you will come some second time to the ships of the [Greeks] either as a spy or as an open enemy, but if I kill you and make an end of you, you will give no more trouble.”

On this Dolon would have caught him by the beard to beseech him further, but Diomed struck him in the middle of his neck with his sword and cut through both sinews so that his head fell rolling in the dust while he was yet speaking.1

This is brutal. It is not the objective method of determining guilt one envisions in a civilized society. How can it be justified? Can it be justified in modern times?

An analogous incident is presented in the 1998 movie, Saving Private Ryan. During the Second World War, an American patrol captures a German soldier. To imprison the German is impractical; he must either be freed or killed. The American leader decides on the former. Later in the movie, there is a brutal battle in which the German soldier who had been freed kills a number of brave American soldiers.

Back to the Trojan War. After ten years of fighting, the Greeks (using the famous Trojan horse) are victorious. They burn the City, kill all the men they can find, and capture the women and children to be made Greek slaves. Two of the prisoners are Andromache, wife of the dead warrior Hector, and her infant son, Astyanax.

A Greek, Talthybius is in charge of the Trojan women. He is sympathetic to their plight; but he comes with news that the Greeks have decided that Astyanax is to be killed because “the son of so distinguished a father cannot be allowed to attain manhood.”2 He tells Andromache that she should quietly accept this decision because, if she complains, her son will not only be killed but that he will also be denied a decent burial.

Can killing an innocent child be justified? In modern times?

On the front page of The Los Angeles Times of October 15, is a picture of a man watching a boy assembling a rifle. It bears the caption: “Little Brother. In Afghanistan, moujahedeen fighters adopt lost boys such as 14-year-old Alauddiln, above, who dreams of avenging his father’s death in battle as he learns the art of war.”

The argument against massive retaliation (“precipitous action”) presented above presupposes a civilized society. In that context, the Constitutional rules protect the rights of innocent individuals. The present international situation is not being carried on in a civilized society. As recent events demonstrate, to apply the rules now is to cause the death of the persons whom they are designed to protect. We are in a war. War is, and has always been (to paraphrase General Sherman), hell.3 To engage in the generosity of the American leader in Saving Private Ryan amounts to self-sacrifice. He who turns the other cheek deserves what happens to it.

References and Notes:

  1. Homer (Butler Tr.), Iliad, Book X
  2. Euripides, The Trojan Women. The method of Astyanax’ death is unnecessarily cruel. He is to “be thrown down from the battlements of Troy.” Odysseus appears over and over in these
    stories. The Trojan horse was his scheme. And he convinces the Greeks to kill Astyanax.
  3. Sherman’s full quotation comes from an address to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy: “I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those
    who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.” In a reply to protests over his
    treatment of the city of Atlanta, he said: “war is cruel and you cannot refine it.”

Copyright © The Association for Objective Law. All rights reserved. Republished in Capitalism Magazine by permission of TAFOL.

The Association for Objective Law is a non-profit corporation whose purpose is to advance Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, as the basis of a proper legal system.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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