BC and Yukon Book Prizes Shortlist

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Getting a Grip on 9/11

August 07th, 2012

Formerly a Defense Officer in the Australian Joint Intelligence Bureau, Ian Slater is a political scientist and the author of an acclaimed literary biography of George Orwell, The Road to Airstrip One. He teaches “War and Society” in UBC’s Department of History.

Slater’s 20 novels include an eight-book World War Three series, plus Knockout (Ballantine), a novel about terrorist camps within the United States. It starts with a sabotage hit on the Boeing plant in Seattle. His best-selling novel Firespill was a prophetic ecological disaster novel; he has always tried to be prescient in his fiction, foreseeing wars and terrorism. Fittingly, the essay that follows details, in Slater’s opinion, the steps that must be taken in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001. Writing shortly after the attacks took place, Slater’s passionate words recall some of the sentiments felt in the immediate aftermath.

“First we take bin Laden, then we take Saddam.”

That was doubtless the unofficial military reaction of many from Washington to London after September 11th. And whether we like it or not, it has to be done, the actual killing of bin Laden best carried out, for political reasons, by a fellow Arab. Killing bin Laden is far more preferable than capturing him, as his imprisonment would result in terrorist hostage-taking without end. He should be killed, not only because he ought to be made to pay for the murders he and his thugs have committed so far but because, despite the lamentable lack of Mid-east Humint [CIA term for term intelligence] during Stansfield Turner’s techno-obsessed administration of the CIA, it has become horrifyingly clear that bin Laden, Saddam, and other Arab terrorists are actively seeking the bomb.

Only the loonies left – the kind who thought that Yasir Arafat actually deserved the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize (surely one of the sickest jokes of the 20th century) – could object to ridding themselves of such vermin. When faced with the distinct possibility that even one of the missing Russian suitcase nukes, for example, may be shortly acquired by terrorists, we have to take off the gloves and unleash our warriors of violence to stop them.

But, some may ask, what gives us in the West, who possess thousands of nuclear warheads, the right to such action? The answer is that we’d rather be alive than dead. Our civilization, like all those before it, ultimately, however regrettably, rests upon our military ability to defend it. Can there be any doubt what Saddam, who has already used chemical and biological weaponry to kill thousands of his own people, will do to the West if he gets the bomb? Can there be any doubt what leaders of Taliban “society,” wherein women, for example are regarded as little more than unclean impedimenta to be hidden away in the cave of the burka, will do against their enemies if they get the bomb?

The sooner we get them – hopefully by the time you read this – the better, because I fear that the present alliance against terrorism will not hold.

Already the Saudis are backpedaling, caught between having support bin Laden and his ilk in return for Al Qaed leaving its initial target, the Saudi royals, alone. This Faustian bargain between Arab terrorist groups and other Mid-East governments is still very much alive – Syria, for example, having played host to several such “freedom-loving” groups shortly before the Trade Towers attack. The implicit deal between such terrorist groups and these governments is, “You let us attack the United States wherever we want and we’ll leave you in place.” Thus tyrannical Mid-East government are able to steer their fundamentalist populations’ wrath and frustrations away from the gross inequalities and injustices of their own societies towards the great Satan of the United States.

There is nothing more useful to a totalitarian government (as Orwell so brilliantly told us in 1984) as the creation of a constant war hysteria against an external enemy. This fact alone should give pause to the legion of political parrots who are slavishly chanting the “root causes” mantra. By all means, look seriously at the root causes. To begin with, we might ask the Arab countries to look at their inability to redistribute their wealth. But this is a messy business, working on your own problems. It is much easier for the West’s intellectually lazy latté crowd to blame everything on the United States – you know, those vulgar Americans (who “had it coming”).

Now Canada is making a military contribution, but it seems that the greatest danger the men and women of our perennially neglected armed forces may have to face will be the threat posed by our antiquated handful of Sea King helicopters which, though having performed sterling service in the past, are now dangerously unreliable. Only one government member, the Right Honourable John Manley, has done us proud by stepping out from the docile front bench, stating unequivocally, and early on, that the terrorists, like Hitler, must be met head on. In doing so, Manley recalled the sacrifices of our forebears in World War Two.

What a soft generation we are, the inheritors of that earlier generation who fought and died for our freedom. We should, as a British columnist once wrote, “get a grip” on ourselves. This is by no measure the worst of times, for we in North America can enjoy an abundance hitherto unknown. And though we live in an anxious time it cannot in all honesty, despite the horror of the recent terrorist attacks, stand up against the unabated tension of the Cold War when, during the Cuban Missile Crisis we held our collective breath in anticipation of Armageddon. Nor can this crisis be properly compared with the unyielding angst of WWII when civilians first experience the nightly terror delivered by Hitler’s bombs.

Manley “has a grip.” And so do many others. Amid a typical media attempt to sensationalize the sad farewells between Canadian naval crews and their families, one seaman’s wife (as reported in Maclean’s) quietly refused the invitation to bathos. “It’s no secret – ships go to sea,” she said. As in, it’s no secret, soldiers go to war – a word painstakingly and typically avoided by our government.

Essay Date: 2001

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