Clarity and Restraint

Responding to tragedy, we test our own elaborate standards

In our second week of shocked mourning, our nation is, in the words of author Raymond Carver, "Moving toward whatever ancient thing it is that works the chains and pulls us so relentlessly on."

As individuals, as parents, as communities, and as a nation we want to find the balance between over-reacting and under-reacting so astutely described last week by Hood River school superintendent Jerry Sessions.

We must stay informed and sensitized to the tragedy and its expanding effects, without succumbing to what psychologists warn is "vicarious traumatization" from too much exposure to images of destruction.

Throughout, the overriding debate rises again: What is the place of war in creating a world of peace? We have no answer to that, but as a nation we need to keep asking the question until the answer is certain.

The role of force versus the rule of law is the unresolved question that bridges the two Bush presidential administrations and their dominant crises -- Persian Gulf War in 1991 and terrorism in America in 2001.

We are 10 years on from the Gulf War and no closer to reconciling, as a nation, the issue of using force to stop enemies from hurting us.

President George Bush declared a "New World Order" when communism fell 10 years ago. We are all still coming to terms with the end of that old enemy; no one ever thought it possible, 20 years ago, that the Iron Curtain would end in our lifetime. We are no longer resigned to the old order.

Can it be that terrorists have created a new New World Order? The younger Bush is probably hesitant to use the phrase again; in any event, it could take us decades again to come to terms with the new, murky realities foisted upon us by those who practice terrorism.

The Cold War was marked, as much as anything, by a sense of restraint. If we are to face a new enemy, one far less distinct than the Soviets and their satellites, that degree of restraint is more vital than ever.

What we also lack now is the other thing that distinguished the Cold War: clarity. Meaning the Rule of Law must be allowed to be fully exhausted. Wheels are now in motion to find a way to bring Osama bin Laden out -- if not peacefully at least with the rounded cooperation from other parties sufficient to make his arrest less deadly.

In democracies, criminal suspects are brought to face charges with something less than legal certitude of the ability to prove guilt. Authorities build up a body of evidence they believe will convince a court of law that the defendant is guilty.

That's how the system works. We don't always like it but we are at a point in our nation's history where we need more than ever to demonstrate full respect for our own elaborate standards.

Osama bin Laden may be the toughest defendant to bring to court in the history of jurisprudence but every attempt must be made through legal channels, however protracted and cumbersome (two characterics of democracy), before other actions are taken.

Will vengeance be ours? Can we achieve vengeance in this New World Order? Vengeance lacks neither clarity nor restraint and, further, the new enemy is not afraid to die for his version of the proper order; he is happy to do so.

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