Monday, February 26, 2007

They say history repeats itself

I am working my way fairly quickly through The Time of Green Ginger by Armstrong King (although I still don't know what the title means). I don't think I could call this book a classic. It seems to fall squarely into that category of books I consider "timely" rather than "timeless." However, it is now "timely" again in a current fashion. Chillingly so.

The characters in the book are fictional, but the historical events are factual, and some of them are so vividly described, I can easily believe the author was present during the time, which he was. This description, of the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, made my blood run cold. I don't know what I'd have felt reading this prior to September 11, 2001, but I know that reading it now recalled vivid images to my mind that match, almost word for word, what King describes. (Warning: This is graphic.)

Tamar and four military clerks had been the last to die. Their office on the top floor had lingered long second before crumbling down in thunder on top of the already collapsed four storeys beneath it. A complete corner section of the hotel, comprising much of the military offices, was totally destroyed, cut out from the main building like a piece out of a cake. Ninety people lay flattened, maimed and ruined under the vast wreckage. Military, civilian, Christian, Arab, Jew, squashed and mauled to death. Dust soared in brown clouds and dirtied the blue sky. When, after days, they dug Tamar out, her head had been crushed into a grotesque and evil-smelling pancake three times its normal size, riddled hollow with maggots.

Within minutes Jerusalem was agog and jubilant. Within minutes cables were singing news flashes. But the ninety victims lay irretrievably broken and lost. Within minutes troops had been posted around the area. Within minutes London was considering the news. And the dead had already begun to decompose. Chaos reigned. At the shock of explosion visitors and military in other parts of the building had rushed in all directions, terrified by enclosing walls, mad for the safety of outside. Those who fled in the wrong direction found corridors running off jagged into the blue sky, and floors sloping away into space; they found steel and concrete hanging down broken and smashed, and everywhere, rubble, disaster, ruin.

The King David Hotel stood mutilated in the sun and the heat of July. Huge heaps of debris had poured across Julian's Way, blocking all traffic. Troops from the Allenby Barracks were set swarming over the rubble, as though their efforts could bring back the dead.

Change the date, the location, and the number of victims...and I wonder why we were so shocked by September 11th, why we thought it was the first time something like that had happened?

But being reminded of the September 11 attacks in the US was not what disturbed me. The truly horrifying part comes later, when you realize that tactics such as this worked, and because they worked--because the acts of terror resulted in authorities bending to the will of the terrorists--those actions were repeated. This particular act of terrorism was perpetrated by radical Israeli nationalists because they had seen Arabs do similar things, and the British had made concessions to them. The Israelis wanted the British to makes concessions to them, so they followed the familiar formula.

Terrorists have been around for a long time. I don't think they are going to go away. And history says...sometimes, at least, they get what they want. "Terrorism works" is not a cheerful message. I don't know if there is any response at all that will stop people from doing things like this in order to manipulate and terrorize. I don't know if there is any way to "win the game." It goes on...and history repeats itself. I hope someone is paying attention.


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