Thou Shalt Not Kill
Deaglán de Bréadún
A fellow I went to school with was on the first plane on 9/11. We had not met for many years, since we were both students — him at Trinity and me at University College Dublin. But I had known him quite well at the Christian Brothers’ Secondary School in Synge Street, Dublin.Patrick Currivan was highly-intelligent, with a warm and engaging personality. At one time he ran for election as head of the debating society and, after a contest that gripped the school for weeks, was defeated by Tony Heffernan, now a senior official with the Irish Labour Party.
My heart goes out to Patrick’s relatives (I interviewed a sister of his for The Irish Times on the third anniversary of the attack) and to all others who lost their near and dear ones on that terrible day.
Although it’s probably not fashionable to say it, I had no great problem when Afghanistan was attacked after 9/11. If that was what it took to get rid of the Al Qaeda training camps, so be it.
It doesn’t seem to have worked out very well, though, and now the Taliban are on the way back. But at least the Afghanistan attack made some kind of sense, which is more than can be said for the invasion of Iraq. Sure, Iraq is settling down now, but at what price in blood, treasure and damage to US prestige around the world?
So don’t call me squeamish when it comes to dealing with the perpetrators of 9/11. Had my life (or maybe yours) worked out differently, I might have been there that day. New York I would regard as my second home and would happily have settled there if the opportunity arose and the circumstances were right.
I had a meal with a good friend of mine at a restaurant close to the World Trade Center some time prior to the attack. It was towards the weekend and the WTC employees were unwinding at a nearby bar. I often wonder how many of them perished on that black day in 2001 and, by extension, how many jumped from high floors to their deaths on the pavement below.
So no ifs or buts, it’s open season on Al Qaeda as far as I’m concerned. In that case, why am I upset at Barack Obama’s comment in the debate with John McCain last night, when he said, in front of an audience of millions: “We will kill Bin Laden”?
What residual delicacy remains in my psyche that I feel a bleak sense of depression after hearing those words uttered by the probable next leader of the Western world? To answer my own question: the Fifth Commandment states quite unequivocally, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”
Now I know that you have to kill people, as a last resort, to defend your country. Pacifism is admirable but not sustainable. But to hear that word, “kill”, with all the weight of disapprobation it carries in religious and moral tradition down through the centuries, is a startling and unwelcome experience.
And I’m not suggesting for even a milli-second that John McCain is any better in this respect. This is the man who sang “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann”. I’ve been to Tehran in my capacity as a journalist and met the ordinary people there. The idea that to nuke a city of human beings could be something to joke about is just not acceptable, to put it at its mildest.
The whole reason why we support the West is not just because we live there but because we believe there is something of inherent value and goodness in what we like to call our civilisation. It’s unfortunate that comments from the two presidential candidates serve to bring us down to the level of those who would wish to destroy us. I happen to believe that both men have other, very admirable qualities but this is apparently the kind of message you have to send out to get to the White House in this day and age. It’s a poor reflection on our culture and our moral standards.
Deaglán de Bréadún