Acts of terrorism are despicable. All too often the victims are women, children, infants, the elderly. Killing them does nothing to advance a cause. Terrorism never discourages an enemy, it just makes him fight all the harder. It leads others to rally to his side.
We brand those who oppose us as terrorists, yet we all bear that title. We may not have committed the acts, but we support those who did. It has always been that way and likely always will be that way. We learn nothing from history. We like to believe we do, but it isn't true. We always find an enemy, always find someone to hate, someone to kill. If infants and children and their mothers happen to get in the way. . .well, that's not our fault is it?
Yes, it is. The Germans, Japanese, British and Americans raised terrorism to a new and horrible level during the Second World War. Death camps and the terror bombing of civilians obliterated countless millions. Nothing granted a person immunity. Not being an infant, not being a schoolgirl, not being a mother, not being a grandmother, not anything. All were fair game and all of us were guilty.
I had seen the devastation caused by air raids in London and Liverpool. I had seen villages and small towns leveled during the fighting. I had seen massive destruction in Germany, but nothing prepared me for what I saw in Bremen and Hamburg. In Bremen I stared across vast open space that had been block after block of residences. Nothing was left that stood as tall as I did. It was even worse in Hamburg. We were told more than 200,000 homes had been destroyed, more than a million left homeless by the firebombing. Incendiary bombs dropped on innocents. Not on soldiers, they were off somewhere on battlefields.
The British General called "Bomber" Harris objected when Churchill used the word terror while discussing the firebombing of Dresden. It was worth it, Harris said, if it saved the life of one British soldier. The same thing was said when an American bombing raid killed close to a hundred thousand in Tokyo and then when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They said it saved the lives of American soldiers but rarely mentioned that the Russians, the traditional enemy of the Japanese, had just entered the war in the east and were rolling back some of Japan's best troops 25 miles a day. Regardless of that, do you save the lives of soldiers by killing infants and young girls walking to school?
In a Focke-Wulf aircraft factory where not a bomb had fallen although across the river residential areas had been devastated, a former German paratrooper named Muller told me, "We hate the Americans and British for killing our women and children. We hate the Russians for destroying our army."
I sometimes think back to a day when some of us were pinned down in a ditch during a driving rain. At a thick dirt hedgerow 25 yards away, German soldiers fired at us with rifles and machine guns. The door of a farmhouse opened and three French girls came out. They were the age of most of the soldiers on both sides of the line. They went along the ditch, each of them bending down to shake the hand of every one of us, then turned and went back inside. Not a shot had been fired. As soon as the door closed behind them the Germans opened up on us again. Two groups of honorable men fighting each other, but not willing to kill civilians.
On a smaller scale, all that goes on today. They have come up with a new phrase for killing civilians: collateral damage. Sounds better than women and children, torn flesh and spilt blood. But do the air strikes save American lives or merely make more men join the fight against our soldiers?
Humans didn't learn a thing from either World War. They didn't learn a thing from Korea or Vietnam. They don't remember that two wrongs don't make a right. Our heroes are their terrorists. Their heroes are our terrorists. No matter how you do it or why you do it, killing children, babies, their mothers, is always wrong. The only difference between people today and those in the darkest periods of history is that we have more sophisticated methods of killing. The outcome of the 21st century conflicts won't mean a thing. There always will be another reason to hate and to kill and no one will be immune. The innocent will go on dying. There isn't much cause for being proud of the human species.