The Rediff Special/ Wing Commander Ravindra V Parasnis (retired)
Not very long ago, my old friend and colleague Wing Commander Joseph Thomas (retired) wrote to me that the 'third world war' began on August 1998, when then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright declared war on terrorism after the Osama Bin Laden-sponsored terrorist attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
This war would seem endless, he warned, and would spread to every corner of the globe, including the heartland of the US. Terror, he believed, would be the primary weapon of the warring sides. He termed the retaliatory American missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan as acts aimed at striking terror in the hearts of the terrorists, so that they would never again think of attacking US interests.
Terrorism would thus increase to mammoth proportions.
Doomsday predictors and fiction writers could only imagine the massive destruction and loss of life that could be caused by a nuclear bomb. In reality, such an attack on the US seemed to border the realm of fantasy. Yet, the US tightened security measures in every possible way to protect her interests and people until she appeared almost invincible. An attack in the heart of the US was, in any case, unthinkable.
A previous bombing attempt on the World Trade Center was not successful; it failed to cause large-scale damage to life and property. It was, therefore, considered that really colossal damage could only be caused by a nuclear attack.
Human ingenuity has yet again proved that impregnable barriers can be breached. Enormous damage to property and huge loss of life can be caused without the use of nuclear weapons. Precision strikes can be made into the heart of the most powerful nation on the earth.
No doubt investigations will bring out security lapses, inadequate intelligence and, perhaps, failure to draw correct inferences from intelligence already received, which could have led to early indications of the likely directions of attack. Many would have been involved in keeping this terrorist operation a well-coordinated secret, leading ultimately to its success.
Be that as it may, one has to appreciate is the tremendous courage and discipline shown by the people of America in the face of this terrible crisis, the speed with which government agencies and NGOs began crisis management, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's personal involvement in the rescue and relief operations and the commitment of NYC officials judging from the fact that the fire chief and his deputy are dead and that over 200 firefighters and 78 policemen (at the time of writing) are missing in the line of duty. I salute them all.
Terrorism aims at killing the innocent and the unarmed. It has no ethics or conscience. It is evil and needs to be put down ruthlessly. The American response is bound to be severe and will have a heavy military component.
I hope the entire world, including Russia and China, join them in this fight against terrorism. India has no choice but to do so. In fact, this is a good opportunity for us to destroy the terrorist training and regrouping camps responsible for causing terror and mayhem in our territory.
The third world war that Thomas talked about is upon us in all its ferocity. It may, like he says, be a war without end, but we must fight it with courage. This war calls for merciless punitive action, not thoughtless murders. While bomb attacks with mass-destruction weapons on some targets are unavoidable, it must be remembered these don't distinguish between the guilty and the innocent. This is why such attacks must be carried out selectively and carefully.
This war cannot be won purely by force or by causing the other side an unacceptable rate of casualties. It has to be a pincer attack of punitive retributions combined with a message of love and tolerance. Using mass destruction weapons to wantonly strike terror into the hearts of the terrorists could prove counter-productive for, then, it wouldn't be God's war we are fighting; it would be the devil's.
No one has put this better than former American president Abraham Lincoln. During the American Civil War, a lady said to him, "We are bound to win this war, Mr President, because God is on our side." The president replied, "I am not so sure about that, madam, but I do hope we are on His side."
Terrorism in America: The complete coverage
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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