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Retaliation just lowers us to the attackers’ level

Letter from Slim Wolfe

Sept. 11 events – November 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Colorado Central,

It was a great month to be a flag salesman but a depressing one for anyone preaching the gospel of peace. The people were out with their flags, like so many colored tickets waving in the hands of spectators at a cockfight. There hadn’t been such a display of bloodlust since the last King George sent the boys to Iraq, for some reason they couldn’t seem to get it up for Clinton’s Marche Militaire, though he played it often enough. Even Martha Quillen, who the month before had literally peppered her editorial with large-font quotes about greed and gluttony and violence, was now making asides about “retaliation,” not exactly a virtue in the eyes of the prince of peace to whom so many swear allegiance.

Oh sure, when the rabbit gets through the fence and into the garden, I’ll retaliate if I can, but rabbit stew is just a brief respite. I’ll never get ’em all, neither will our forces in Afghanistan get ’em all, because hijackers don’t come from Afghanistan, they come from the land of hatred, resentment, and ignorance, lands which are all over the world, and can’t be bombed out of existence, rather, the more you attack them with force, the bigger they grow. Surely there’s a legion of Panamanians, Serbs, Somalis, Hutus, Granadans, Chileans, and who knows how many more who’d love to take out the Pentagon.

So sorry, Martha, but your fond memories of the Pentagon parking lot and your friend-of-the-family status with current Pentagon employees cannot excuse you from seeing the truth about that murderous terrorist organization. Or the function of those twin towers of Babel in whipping up inflation and inequity in the world’s commerce, which you have yourself frequently bemoaned.

When we retaliate, we lower ourselves to the level of our attackers, who no doubt thought they were retaliating for the bombing of Baghdad or the inequities of capitalism. Retaliation is the tactic of protestant/Catholic in Ireland, Serb-Croat in the Balkans, and every other revolving door conflict in world history. It’s the tactic of children, and unfortunately of Presidents, and doesn’t do a heck of a lot except let off steam and provoke more trouble. Search history and know how many needless, useless deaths have resulted from retaliation, the battleship Maine in the Phillipines, the Archduke in Sarajevo, the rise of Hitler, the escalation of the Vietnam War, all because some wiley politicians were able to egg the people on to jingoism and bloodlust.

Two thousand years after the crucifixion and 50 years after Gandhi, despite universal education and the internet, the people are still not much changed from the spectators at the Roman arenas. They want to see blood, they love a good chase scene, no matter what the cost, and by golly with the help of the loonies in Washington and the other loonies from somewhere on the far side of the world, the people are getting their wish.

Two things these days make me cringe, the American flag and the Crucifix. Not for what they stand for, but for how they have been perverted. Maybe if I were a Saudi or a Pakistani, I’d cringe at the crescent, instead.

Slim Wolfe

Villa Grove

A Reply from the Editor


Just to set the record straight, I wrote that letter on September 11, and I did not say that we should retaliate, nor did I imply that we should retaliate. At that point — with politicians vowing action and newscasters talking of war — my only sentiment was that in the wake of terrorism it is difficult to know how to respond.

What I wrote was:

“How can we retaliate? What will this do to our economy?

“To me it seems too soon to know or even care. It’s time to investigate, to take stock, to rescue our injured, and bury our dead….”

In my mind, that hardly seems like a call to arms.

Martha Quillen