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Chain Reaction

December 31, 1985

For sheer brutality, the slaughter of passengers checking their luggage for holiday flights in Rome and Vienna last week has seldom been matched--even in the Middle East, the world's most active volcano of terror.

The heart cries for a break in the chain--forged link by link over decades of exploding grenades, flaming buses, booby traps and dead women and children--that tethers Israelis and Palestinians to a war with no trenches and no boundaries. The mind sees yet another deadly link already being forged to join the chain in yet another blinding flash somewhere soon, sometime soon.

From the relative safety of Washington, shielded from most such madness by an ocean and a continent, officials counseled restraint. Go gently in reacting to these Palestinians working off their frenzy on the innocent with grenades and machine guns, they said. The heart yearns for the break in the chain that might feed the fragile hopes for peace through negotiations. The mind argues that restraint is a concept with meaning only in civilized settings where both parties can contemplate the value of turning the other cheek. Contemplation was an early victim in the Middle East.

As long as there are ragged platoons of young Palestinians, encouraged by demented elders, nursing a blind faith that repeated violence will wear down the civilized world, there will be no break in the chain. If the next link is not forged by retaliation, it will be fashioned at another airport, on another cruise ship, at 35,000 feet on another airliner caught off guard, by people for whom death is a condition of peace as much to be desired as life.

The tragedy piles upon tragedy in this insane war. There is the most recent tragedy of 18 dead, irrelevant strangers to the assassins. There is the tragedy that in the twisted minds of the assassins those strangers died not in vain but in the cause of the assassins. There is the tragedy that retaliation often is neither as precise nor as proportionate as it must be, inviting ever bloodier response. There is the final tragedy that strict forbearance is no answer, either--only an invitation to more death in the cause of the assassins.

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