The other evening a friend who is married to someone who has an extremely sensitive government position called to chat on the phone. We got to talking about how grim the news in the world had been recently and she said she'd simply stopped watching it on television. That, of course, was before we bombed Libya during the 7 O'Clock News, adding yet another event to the list of experiences Americans have shared on live television.
Add it also to the list of events that are making the world an ever more dangerous and violent place -- and to the list of events that are working inexorably to bringing the violence here.
There isn't much point in second-guessing any administration in these kinds of matters. One, it's over and done. Two, there comes a point when you simply have to trust the judgment of officials who have access to better information than does the general public. And three, you'd have to be a totally committed pacifist or a complete wimp not to have a part of you saying Qaddafi had it coming, something had to be done.
There comes a point when the immediate horror -- perhaps the slaying of an 11-year-old girl in an airport, or the killing of a baby in an airplane -- outweighs the possibility of escalated terror and demands retaliation.
In President Reagan's case, that turning point apparently occurred with the bombing of a West Berlin discotheque that killed a GI and wounded 50 others, and the planned massacre of civilians waiting for visas at an unidentified American embassy. That attack was aborted with the help of the French, Reagan said, and, obviously, through good intelligence work. This is not the time to save nickels and dimes in the intelligence budgets.
Immediately after the Libyan bombing, House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) said: "We are in a new kind of war here, breaking new ground. It will take time to shake all this out. I have to express some concern. What is the next step? What if it comes from another country? What is the retaliation?"
And Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, cautioned that it is "a mistake to view Qaddafi as the only source of terrorism. He's the loudest and most obnoxious, but he's not the only element in terrorism. So we may have some rough sailing in the short haul."
In his brief televised message , President Reagan looked to history for justification. "Europeans who remember history understand better than most that there is no security, no safety in the appeasement of evil." That is one lesson from World War II, but the other lesson from that war is equally relevant.
It's the lesson the world learned from the Treaty of Versailles: When you emasculate a nation you create a breeding ground for psychopathic strongmen and demagogues who ride to power on bloodied national pride, severe economic dislocation and religious hatred.
The parallels to what has happened to the Palestinians who have been living in refugee camps cannot be escaped. Whatever one's sympathies in the tangled history of the Middle East, the fact is that hundreds of thousands of families have become homeless since 1948, living in appalling squalor for generations now, with thousands of children orphaned in wars and growing up nurtured on hatred and inured to violence. Reporters in the camps 20 years ago saw children 6, 7, 8 years of age practicing with guns and broomsticks. Yesterday's children are today's terrorists.
Qaddafi has no record of support for the Palestinian cause when it counted, (he sat out the 1973 war), but the very existence of the situation gives him the political excuse and human raw material to carry out terrorism.
The Allies learned something from the post-World War I mistakes. After World War II, billions of American dollars were poured into West Germany, as well as other devastated European countries, through the Marshall Plan in an effort to them into strong, stable allies. It worked.
Terrorist technology has apparently become so sophisticated that explosive devices can be smuggled through airports without being detected. That means it is going to be much harder to prevent attacks on American soil. President Reagan seemed to acknowledge that when he vowed to "respond" to attacks on American citizens "anywhere in the world."
The bombing may make Qaddafi think twice, but it also should make those of us who watched it happening think twice about what is going on in that part of the world. An eye for an eye may be a quick-fix solution, but it's not going to deter people who have nothing to lose.