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Going to Extremes 

In his syndicated column this week, David Corn catalogued extremist responses to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last Tuesday. Here are excerpts from Corn's piece.

... The most obvious -- and predictable -- form of extremism was best represented by Senator Zell Miller. The day after the assault, this conservative Democrat from Georgia, declared, "I say bomb the hell out of them." On the Senate floor, he added, "If there's collateral damage, so be it. They certainly found our civilians to be expendable." Meaning that the United States should be willing to kill innocents and head in the moral direction of its enemies. Indeed, retribution against the authors of the attack may entail the loss of civilian life (and this may have even occurred by the time you read this). But the ugly reality of so-called collateral damage should not be diminished, let alone celebrated. ... One of the few reasonable voices on this point belonged to former Defense Secretary William Cohen, who told CBS News, "We will be descending into the lower depths of humanity" if the country decides to "engage in a wholesale slaughter of innocent people."

Many talking heads were not heeding Cohen. Before the identity of the guilty parties was established, a claque of pundits and hawks were demanding war. And talk of war is not normally an exercise of subtlety and reflection. Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said, "There is only one way to begin to deal with people like this, and that is you have to kill some of them, even if they are not immediately directly involved in this thing." Was that his version of the old slogan, "Kill them all, and let God sort them out"?

Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, complained to Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post's media reporter, that "it's not necessarily an easy course to say let's go to war. It takes some righteous anger and conviction to say that." Nor is it easy, he added, to call for attacks on "states that have been supporting, if not Osama bin Laden, people like him. Those states need to feel pain. If we flatten part of Damascus or Tehran or whatever it takes, that is part of the solution."

Not easy to call for war? When thousands of Americans lie dead? When flags are flying everywhere? When hundreds of Americans have threatened Arab-Americans? Does Lowry expect congratulations for assuming this difficult burden? This is a period of black-and-white pronouncements.

... One of the most extreme reactions to the horrific assault came -- not too surprisingly -- from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. "The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this," Falwell said when he appeared on Robertson's television show, The 700 Club. How so? Because, Falwell explained, the civil libertarians have opposed prayer in school. Robertson agreed. "God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve," Falwell remarked. (Talk about blaming America first.)

Furthermore, Falwell noted that "the abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad." September 11 apparently was God's revenge. If so, the United States should forget about beefing up the CIA, increasing the Pentagon budget, building Star Wars, or even improving airline security. Surely, a nation cannot defend against an act of God. But Falwell failed to explain why God has not similarly punished other nations where abortion occurs. Or why God, if he/she/it were truly angry, didn't merely smite those who piss him/her/it off?

But the Reverend was on a tear: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'" Robertson chimed in: "I totally concur." Here was one set of fundamentalists crassly taking political advantage of the murderous acts of another set of fundamentalists.

These are not days of understanding or reflection. They are days of horror, tremendous sadness, and, unfortunately, exploitation.

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