The Terror Next Time By David S. Broder
Speaking as a journalist who has a deeply ingrained resistance to government controls on our activities, I am prepared to say that the reporting reflex that prompts us to convey terrorists' threats and promises and hostages' pleas for release is offensive to our professional standards and dangerous to this nation.
This view -- which will win me few friends among my colleagues -- is tempered by the realization that so long as there is access available to terrorists and hostages, we as journalists will do what we always do. We will go after the story, even though we know we are playing into the terrorists' hands.
This is one consideration -- but not the most important one -- that leads me to reaffirm my belief, first uttered in the second month of the Iranian hostage situation, that the United States must alter its policy toward terrorism.
Instead of wavering while the terrorists wage psychological warfare on the American people through the hostages and the press, let us put the burden of responsibility where it belongs: on the nation or the neighborhood that willingly harbors terrorism.
Our policy, I believe, has to be so simple and straightforward that it allows no misunderstanding.
We must say that any nation that allows terrorists to hold Americans hostage on its territory can expect swift and severe retaliatory punishment by U.S. military forces.
We must serve notice on the world that the first day a hostage situation is created, the United States will cease its commerce and travel and private communication with the country harboring the captors. On the next day, all other Americans will be ordered to leave -- and assisted in leaving, by armed escort if necessary.
On the third day, or as soon thereafter as the United States decids in its sole discretion, retaliatory action will begin, unless that nation has tried to rid itself of the terrorists or to force them to release their hostages.
Only by such a clear, unequivocal policy can we reverse the fatal folly of permitting any terrorists who seize Americans to capture, with them, the focus of the American press and to play mind games with the American people. Only then can the American government be saved from the paralysis of its will.
We have to make it evident that the hostage problem is not primarily our problem: it is the problem of the nation that gives the terrorists space. That nation has to solve it fast, or it will face the consequences.
If every nation is convinced the United States means what it says, then no nation will provide the terrorists haven -- allow them to land or permit them to remain. That is what we want: to give them no quarter.
If any nation is so heedless of the warning as to tolerate the terrorists, then that nation and its people have involved themselves in the crime -- and will suffer the punishment.
Does such a policy risk the hostages' lives? Of course it does. But let us, finally, be realistic. Once the terrorists take hostages, it is the terrorists and not we who control their fate. The longer the terrorists can string out the hostage situation, the easier access we allow them to our cameras and microphones, the greater the power they gain over their hostages -- and over us. Each such success, even if it ends with the hostages being handed back, encourages more terrorism and hostage-taking.
Let us be honest with ourselves. Every weekend of the year, on the average, 317 Americans die in automobile accidents and thousands more are injured. Almost all those precious human beings are innocent victims of a transportation system that we have tried to make safer, but which still kills and maims.
Despite that toll, our Mondays are not spent immersed in televised, broadcast and published potrayals of the grief of the victims' families and the anxieties of the injured's next of kin. We have accepted the fact that, for a modern industrial state relying heavily on motor transportation, road travel involves the inevitable risk of death or injury. The rational response is to do what we can to prevent highway accidents and to deal severely with the highway killers.
That must be our approach to those who hijack airliners, take over embassies, plant bombs or kidnap Americans on the street: We must take every possible precaution to deny the terrorists success. But once the terrorists strike, we must above all make certain that they and those who harbor them pay.
It is feckless for us to assert that since we cannot establish the exact location or identity of the terrorists, we cannot retaliate. Exposing them is not our problem; it is the responsibility of those in whose midst they are living and operating. They must rid themselves of the terrorists or require the terrorists to relieve the hostages. Or they must suffer the consequences.
The choice is clear. If we meet our responsibilities, they will not feel so free to play their deadly games. If we do not give clear advance notice of a policy of certain retaliation, we simply guarantee more such ordeals and humiliations for America and Americans.