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No 'Lesson' From Sirhan

June 07, 2003

The individual act of Sirhan Sirhan in assassinating presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was not the "first shot" in the terror war, as Michael Fischbach tries to imply (Commentary, June 2). It was no more an act of terror than John Hinckley Jr.'s or Lee Harvey Oswald's. Maybe James Earl Ray's assassination of Martin Luther King applies. All of these men were troubled and mentally unstable, and acted alone (unless the conspiracy theories appeal to you). They wanted to kill a specific individual, not terrorize a population (except Ray).

Connecting references to Al Qaeda and Yasser Arafat to an immigrant who came here when he was 4 is ludicrous. Kennedy's assassination was a huge tragedy to many of us -- but calling it terrorism is simply an ongoing trend to use the "T" word to sensationalize or, worse, to make people fear certain groups. The repressive governments around the world, and our own, are using the concept of "terrorism" to squelch legitimate dissent. To characterize this act as the beginning of terrorism is unconscionable. Think Timothy McVeigh if you want a terrorist. Think Osama bin Laden. Sirhan is a Hinckley, not a Mohamed Atta.

Kathleen O'Connor Wang

Long Beach

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Fischbach suggests that much of the terrorism we have suffered could have been avoided if we "learned different lessons from the tragedy of June 1968." According to Fischbach, our policy in the Middle East is so troublesome to Arabs that some of them feel compelled to murder a U.S. senator or fly a plane into a skyscraper. Therefore, if we want to avoid terrorism, we need "an appreciation of the complexities and interconnectedness of the modern world."

Fischbach is suggesting that our policy in the Middle East should be changed not because it is wrong or unjust but because certain Arabs will try to kill Americans if the U.S. does not give in to the Arabs' demands. That is simply cowardice and appeasement and would set a terrible precedent. Instead of rationally making their case, groups with political demands would simply engage in terrorism until the U.S. acquiesced. What would Fischbach recommend if both sides engaged in terrorism to achieve their ends?

David Shemano

Los Angeles

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If I understand Fischbach correctly, he seems to be saying that the major "lesson" to be learned from various terrorist acts, from the murder of one presidential candidate all the way to the biggie of 9/11, is that the U.S. should not be using military force against the Arab terrorists who are trying to destroy Western civilization. I would like to think he is kidding, but I am afraid he is not.

If what happened in New York and Washington 21 months ago was not a good reason to use military force, could Fischbach please tell us what would be a good reason?

Marc Russell

Los Angeles

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Fischbach is right in only one respect: The U.S. has never treated the assassination of Kennedy as what it was, the first act of terrorism on American soil by a Palestinian fanatic.

I. Nelson Rose

Whittier

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Los Angeles Police Department records, which were finally released in 1988, show that Sirhan's gun muzzle was never closer than a foot, at best (and three feet, by most accounts), from Kennedy. Yet Kennedy was hit, on the first shot, from a distance of no greater than one inch. In addition, Kennedy was shot from behind and Sirhan was standing in front of Kennedy. Kennedy is described as falling backward, away from the gun, after the first shot. However, a total of four shots were pumped into Kennedy, all from behind and to the right, and all at an upward angle. Sirhan's gun was held parallel to the floor until he and the gun were slammed onto a steam table. In other words, whatever else happened that night, Sirhan's gun did not kill Kennedy.

Sirhan made no claim to having a motive and did not recall the shooting of Kennedy. He remained silent for hours after his capture and when he finally spoke, he did not understand what had happened. This is hardly the behavior of a terrorist. A single assassin who is silent until much later and then only accepts the motive handed him by a hypnotist (true story) simply doesn't gel with Fischbach's thesis.

That is not the start of terrorism. That is the start of a very interesting tale that may have more to do with a domestic mind-control program than it does with Middle East politics.

Lisa Pease

Seattle

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