one new, one old -- have been coming from Lebanon. The new, like a shriek in the night, tells of the victimization of 40 American travelers held hostage and the violence done to them by a faction of the Shiite militia. The cockpit photograph of a gunman holding a pistol to the head of the TWA pilot is a crime Americans easily relate to: a mugging by a hoodlum.
The older story is the decade-long destruction done to Lebanon: the mass graves, shells obliterating homes and shops, massacres, car bombs, abductions. Syrians, Israelis, Palestinians and Americans and more than a dozen Lebanese religious denominations are among those who, in a brotherhood of death, believe the way to stop the other side's violence is with one's own violence.
It is incomprehensible that despite 10 years of war in a country of less than four million, leaders of nations and factions can still give weapons to young men and sucker them into believing that one more attack -- open or secret -- can persuade the opponent to change his behavior.
The killing and wounding hasn't worked politically, and it has failed militarily. Examples abound. In "Days of Wrath: Lebanon," Joseph Chami reports that on July 17, 1981, the Israeli air force bombed the West Beirut quarter of Fakeheni, which was believed to be a nest of PLO members: "141 died and 730 were wounded. No one among the PLO leaders was harmed."
So many attacks like that have bloodied Lebanon that only the attentive can sort them out. Learning the vocabulary of this war is difficult. When a few Israelis and Palestinians shoot at each other on the ground, it is a "clash." From the air, when planes drop bombs on villages, it is a "raid." Shellings from battleships, as in the USS New Jersey's bombardment of the Chouf Mountains in December 1983, are intended as "warning shots." Leveling a building and then shooting into the alleys around it is a "mop-up operation." The phrases belong to a dialect of another land's anguish.
Because we haven't paid that much attention, the TWA hijacking has assumed the appearances of a random unexplainable mugging. In that simplified context, the position of the U.S. government, as expressed by Secretary of State George P. Shultz, has the ring of reason to it, especially at the first peal: "The problem is not Israel, the problem is not evil about America, the problem is the people who hijacked that plane, who murdered an American and who are holding the Americans there hostage. That's the problem."
Self-exonerations and finger pointing are no more than wrenchings from context. They are meaningless. With macho gunplay out, macho wordplay is in. "It is a war and it is the beginning of a war," Caspar Weinberger said on June 24 in explaining why the U.S. military is "ready to do anything" in Lebanon. So much for the Constitution which, until now apparently, does not give the power to declare war to the secretary of defense.
The violence done to the 40 Americans -- innocent bystanders -- can't be isolated from the Mideast civil war. Some 100,000 people -- a high number of them standing by in their innocence -- have died in 10 years. The American government is a participant: sometimes directly, by the stationing of Marines and battleships, and sometimes indirectly, by supplying weapons to sides and factions. Truces and ceasefires have been called, but when these have occurred, the attitude of many participants has been like Napoleon's at the Treaty of Amiens: "What a beautiful fix we are in now; peace has been declared." The American military has firepower and it has used it. In December 1983, the heaviest weapons of the U.S. Navy -- 16-inch guns -- fired bombs against what were called Syrian positions outside Beirut. The exact death toll is not known, but Lebanese villagers were reported to have been killed. Days before the attack Caspar Weinberger said that "the New Jersey isn't there just to cruise up and down. There are appropriate uses for its awesome power." No doubt the TWA hijackers believed they might as well appropriately use the awesome power in their hands -- pistols and grenades.
Weinberger's war ranting clarifies that for some time American leaders have done little diplomatically and economically to create peace in Beirut and the villages. A slaughter has been occurring in Lebanon for years, much of it aided by American technology of death: from cluster bombs to 16-inch guns.
It isn't anti-Americanism to acknowledge this country's involvement. The hostage crisis isn't a crisis but a pattern -- of violence, retaliation and hate. Those who are saying this -- Jesse Jackson and James Zogby of Save Lebanon, among others -- are realists who see the failure as the failure to break the pattern.
To condemn the hijackers as though their violence is something new, and not deal with all of the destructiveness in Lebanon, is to ensure that more massacres, more shellings and more hijackings are to come.