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Thursday, March 11, 2004

'Spain's 9/11'

I've been to Spain twice — in 1981 on the obligatory post-clerkship backpack and Eurailpass sweep, and then again for a more leisurely three weeks in 1985 on my honeymoon. I love the country and its people, and I look forward to returning again someday.

I have nothing particularly clever or insightful to say about today's terrorist attack in Madrid that has left more than 190 dead and more than 1200 wounded.

But I can't just say nothing.

I see the pictures of the blasted, the dead, the dying, the maimed. And I can't help but wonder about the waiter in a tiny Madrid bistro who took pity on my jet-lagged bride and me on our first "night on the town" after we'd ordered a local speciality, "callos," that was touted by Let's Go: Europe but that turned out to be tripe. He insisted on bringing us beef steaks that we couldn't pay for because we hadn't yet changed enough money, and waved off our promise to return with payment the next day. I remember the proud, stylish, sophisticated young men and women who were strolling the Gran Via and the smaller city streets and the tapas bars after twilight and before the proper (oh-so-late) dinner hour, who looked with bemused indulgence at my student's wardrobe and backpack. I've yet to set foot in the Prado, but I remember dozens of small experiences with ordinary Spaniards, off the beaten paths, that collectively made me feel a bond with those people, a commonality with them, a genuine affection and admiration for them. The odds are that someone I met on one of my two trips to Spain is today suddenly dead, or wounded, or has a family member or close friend who is.

Al Qaeda has claimed "credit"; indigenous terrorist group Eta has denied responsibility; time will tell where the truth lies. Regardless, the obvious, painful lesson is that the War on Terror isn't an "American war," much less "George W. Bush's war."

Spain has already been a noble ally in the Coalition of the Willing — a/k/a "the fraudulent coalition" in Sen. Kerry's incredibly offensive phrasing. Spain had long since earned the respect and gratitude of those in America and the rest of the civilized world who "get it" — who understand that the War on Terror isn't just a law enforcement and intelligence matter, or just a subject for U.N. debates and resolutions and blue-helmeted peacekeepers, or just something that diplomacy and maybe a few cruise missile strikes can "keep in its box."

Spain's shock and grief will turn to outrage and anger, and then to cold and furiously steadfast resolve. I share those emotions; I mourn and honor Spain's dead and wounded; and I dread the next such attack.

National nightmares like 9/11, or like today's brutal bombings, will at least rip the illusions from a few millions more civilized men and women. And that ultimately is why the terrorists (and the rogue states who support and shelter them) will be defeated. Some folks mocked President Bush's declaration after 9/11 that "you're either with us" — "us" meaning not America, but civilization — "or you're with the terrorists." But with each such tragedy, fewer and fewer civilized persons will still be able to mock, and deny, and delude themselves. Inaction and illusion will become universally unacceptable — and then, finally, there will be no place left for the terrorists to hide, and no hope for their escape.

Posted by Beldar at 09:02 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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