Thursday, October 20, 2011

Beginning Again

When Osama bin Laden was killed, I wrote that we should not rejoice, and that we should not kill. Now officials at the highest levels of government are once again celebrating our role in the killing of the leader of another country, this time Moammar Qaddafi of Libya. Should I again speak out against the violence? Or is once enough?

Coincidentally, today Jews around the world are celebrating Simchat Torah, the day on which we read the last weekly portion of the Torah and begin the cycle again by reading the first portion. For untold centuries we have read these same portions, beginning anew over and over again. Reinforcing old lessons, hopefully finding new meanings. Teaching new generations. Recognizing the cyclical and endless nature of existence but hopefully not concluding that striving for better understanding is futile. A spiritual renewal, following closely upon the annual observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and sandwiched between the weekly observance of the Sabbath, all of which also signal new beginnings.

The lesson that I choose to derive from these cyclical special days is that if a lesson is relevant and needed, it can be repeated as often as necessary. However, to keep from boring my readers, I suggest that we have something new to ponder as we reflect upon this latest elimination of a head of state: we may be getting better at assassination. We certainly seem to be embracing it more readily than before.

This time we were told almost immediately that our unmanned drone aircraft were used for round-the-clock surveillance of Qaddafi's hometown, because that was where our informants told us he might be hiding. When he tried to flee, we used manned and unmanned planes to shoot at his motorcade. We used our communications network to dispatch fighters to the scene. Those fighters captured Qaddafi, and then, once he was already in custody, they shot him to death. We were involved in the assassination from the beginning of the operation until its brutal, bloody end.

Earlier this week, the news reported that our military will soon begin giving soldiers their own personal mini-drone aircraft which they can launch like toy model airplanes. These aircraft, however, will not be toys. They will be armed to carry out attacks on individuals. Foot-soldiers will be able to kill whoever they want by remote-control, as if they were playing on a video game console. And, of course, we know that our military probably has even more capable weapons in development that they aren't even telling us about yet.

Our country seems to accept, even take pride, that the technology we produce for killing people is constantly improving. We don't seem very concerned that our willingness to kill may also be increasing. We don't seem upset that we used to think of political assassination as something that was done by tyrants or terrorists or madmen, and was abhorrent to civilized democracies. Today, it is something that we, supposedly a democracy, do to people whom we declare to be tyrants.

There is a cycle in life, but life is not endless repetition. Circumstances change, and not necessarily for the better. Our society has put faith in the idea that certain timeless lessons will guide us in the right direction, and so we re-read the lessons over and over.

Once again, let us reflect on what we have done.

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