Illuminated French flags appear in London, New York and Sydney – and a few hundred other cities too, I dare say. Crowds gather with candles to say prayers. We are all Parisians now. Just as we were all New Yorkers after the events of 11 September 2001, all Londoners after 7 July 2007.
But a little more illumination is needed than the electrical projections of flags on public buildings, as sincere and heartfelt as those gestures may be. And there, of course, is the rub. What do we do next?
Damned if I know. Which means I can’t really haul off at our leaders, tempting though that might be, for not knowing either.
Yesterday, the West mourned for Paris and its citizens. The day before that the West rejoiced because Jihadi John had been ‘evaporated’ in an American drone attack. We cheer, the terrorists cheer louder. The terrorists cheer louder because the numbers are bigger. Is this, then, as Wall Street accountants like to say, a numbers game? Must we, ergo, kill more of ‘them’ than they kill of ‘us’?
It does not seem to have worked so far, for either side. Which means that hostilities shall be resumed forthwith.
The fact is, some problems have no solutions – at least, that is, none with any foundation in practical realities. The United States lost a war in Vietnam because it could not in good conscience deploy the firepower it had at its disposal. The Viet Cong knew that, of course, and duly won, with a largely citizen army of guerrillas. The lesson learned there is that the powerful are powerless unless they use methods that the rest of humanity find unacceptable.
So, for the next few weeks, we will be assailed with platitudes from the politicians, starting with “This is War!” and that will dovetail nicely with lazy remarks dropped in workplace and pub to the effect that “we should nuke the whole fuckin’ lot of ‘em”.
Where we will finish up is somewhere between the venting of meaningless slogans and outrageous diatribes and doing pretty much nothing. Closer, I suspect to doing nothing. Quite right, too, if the alternative is some kind of imposed and endless conflagration.
The air strikes in Syria will increase, no doubt, probably by agreement between Putin and Obama (who had a brief private chat during a break at the summit in Turkey). Troops will be despatched to sensitive areas in western cities. More and more, and better and better, surveillance will be authorized; and willingly paid for – by governments if not by civilians.
And then, in some city yet to be identified there will be another attack. Where and when, it is impossible to predict. The perpetrators hold the trump card: its name is surprise.
Terrorism is what we have in the twenty-first century instead of war. As cold and calculating as it comes out, I would say terrorism is an improvement on mass slaughter.
Tell that to the victims in Paris, you say.
Tell that to six million Jews, I say, or to twenty million Russians – if that is the number – or to a few hundred-thousand former citizens of Hiroshima. Tell it, if you prefer, to the millions of other people I haven’t the time mention, ‘evaporated’ in two world wars.
Even Fascist Germans and Communist Russians could, in certain circumstances, be persuaded to negotiate. There are no conceivable circumstances in which ISIL might be so persuaded.
Violent retaliation it is, then, and violent retribution in return for that.
Drone attacks, air strikes, boots on the ground – I’ve no idea what the most effective military strategy is, or even whether there should be a military strategy. So far, military interventions in small countries by large ones have failed to produce much in the way of progress.
Perhaps. But there’s a round of applause waiting, not to mention the gratitude of billions of peace-loving citizens of the planet, to the man who comes up with an answer. It happens not to be me.