Back in the day, well before yours truly came along, it was the way of America that if a foreign agency kidnapped or harmed on American citizen, then America would exact a steep price. The government would accept a raid to rescue two hostages at the cost of twenty Marines.
Somewhere around the Carter Administration we lost that will. We became enlightened and transcended the need for brute force. It is the enlightenment that our allies in France and Germany and our own peace acitvist crowds want us to hew to.
After hearing about the death of Paul Johnson, an American civilian, I had to wonder at just what cost we are purchasing this enlightenment. Unlike most atrocities committed by Al Qaeda, this one was the follow-up to an act of extortion: do what we want or this person dies. If this is the rule of this war, that civilians may be targetted to achieve political or military aims, then so be it.
If it is discovered where Mr. Johnson was held and murdered, then that block and every block next to it should be bombed flat. An announcement should then be made: This is what happens if you allow terrorists to operate in your neighborhood. If you do not harbor terrorists, then this shall not happen to you. If you do harbor men such as this, then this is the price you and everyone around you shall pay.
This is not sinking down to the level of the terrorists. This groups demand was that other terrorists be released from prison, conceivably in order to continue the fight. Our demands would have the goal of denying the enemy a place to hide, and thus ending the fighting all the quicker. I would hold that the do it quickly method would result in fewer net casualties, although it would come in one big photogenic event, rather than spread out in drips and drabs.
If the US is pursuing a policy of torture in its interrogations, I would regret it. However, I would regret more an attack that could have been thwarted if only our side had the information that could not be gotten with kid gloves.
Via the Drudge report I have a link to some of the photos put on the web by the murderers. WARNING: Extremely Graphic Andrew Sullivan expresses doubt that these pictures will get nearly the play that photos from Abu Ghraib received. I have the same doubts, yet people need to understand what we are fighting. I would like people to look at these photos, and then shut the hell up about what seems thus far in the photos little more than fraternity hazing stunts.
We can live in a state of enlightenment in peace. When attacked by those who call that same enlightenment a weakness, however, then we must show how we earned that enlightenment. We earned elightenment because we have been that barbaric, and were very, very good at it. So good at it that we would have destroyed the world had we not become enlightened. We earned that enlightenment because we survived barbarity. We now fight a foe who does not understand the power that is constrained only by our desire to be enlightened. Our enemy has not yet tasted the full cost of his barbarity, and my suggestion to level nine city blocks is far below the line of what we could acheive.
Update: Michele at A Small Victory posts a pair of posts that show that I am not the only seeing the difference enlightenment makes. I'm afraid that I have turned that corner, or at least 45 degrees of it. If the United States gives up some of its power in the form of allowing the terrorists the choice: kill any of our people and the result will be the flattening of some of your neighborhoods, and proved that if A then B a couple of times, then the Arab Street can truly make an informed choice as to the cost of this war, the cost of allowing the barbarous among them.
I won't bactrack to Michele on this post because of her feelings on posting or linking to the picture. I don't do so to be gruesome. I do so to drive home the point of the cost of our enlightenment. When we come out of the far side of this war, I will remember the price we paid. That is a solemn oath.
My belated condolences to the Johnson family.
A tip of the hat to Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, and Dean Ing for the description of man's reason to give up war as being just too good at it.