Macho slogans get us nowhere

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Two posts in one day? Wow, Eric must have eaten his Wheaties this morning!

I’ll keep this short: Just driving back from an assignment, listening to the radio. The host of a talk show was denouncing what he considered to be the stupidity of Justin Trudeau’s suggestion we should look into the reasons someone bombs innocent people at a marathon. The host was parroting the prime minster’s talking points: now is not a time for reflection, it’s a time for action.

I get the public appeal of tough talk – “I’m a man of action, not a navel gazer” – so while it’s not laudable for the PM to score points criticizing Trudeau, it’s understandable. But for an articulate talk show host to categorically dismiss Trudeau’s idea is just absurd.

Let me speak plainly: I am no fan of Justin Trudeau, nor am I squeamish about using brutal methods to punish murderers who bomb civilian populations. This is clearly a time for action. But guess what, it’s also a time for reflection on the causes of terror. That doesn’t mean you agree with the bombings, or think there could be a good excuse for perpetrating them. But it does mean, at a minimum, we should know our enemy.

A general who is all action and no reflection is a fool – all tactics, no strategy.

I’ll go further, too. Without making excuses for the murder of civilians, post-incident investigations should always include the big picture: Is our foreign policy achieving our aims? Are we making Americans globally safer or putting them in greater danger?

Interesting column yesterday:

Even more interesting was the comments posted to the column. Question: Do drone strikes create more terrorists than they kill?

I have mixed feelings about drone strikes, and one of the complicating factors, clearly, is civilian casualties. Innocent people have been killed by these drone strikes.

No, I’m not saying Boston and drones are morally equivalent. The use of drones is part of a moral calculus that, while muddy and difficult, is not without some (some, not complete) justification: we unfortunately kill innocents to also kill bad guys, and hopefully save more lives in the future. That’s the thinking. That isn’t me giving it a full endorsement, but it’s a recognition that the goals in these two attacks, at least on a tactical level, are not the same.

But imagine for a moment that you’re the parent of a child killed in a drone strike – the father of one of the innocent victims. How much comfort would you take in the justifications offered by the West? My guess is none. My guess is you would hate the West and you would seek vengeance if you could.

This isn’t me saying we’re the bad guys, or somehow the U.S. “deserved” the Boston bombings (even if the prime minister or the talk show host might try to spin my comments that way). This is simply recognizing that human motivations are pretty universal and the despair and rage of a person who loses a loved one to violence is probably similar whether it’s in New England or Pakistan.

Do we stop drone strikes? Do we cease efforts to fight terrorists? Do we give bombers a pass because they had justifications they thought were reasonable?

None of these questions need to be answered by me here (although the answer to questions two and three is a clear no). What I am arguing for is the merit of asking questions. Rambo is what you want when it’s time to storm the bunker, but it’s not what you want when investigating a terrorist plot.

Knowing why it happened is part of knowing who did it and how to stop it from happening again. As national leaders go, Trudeau strikes me as a lightweight, despite his boxing prowess, and his response may have been too slim on action and too heavy on reflection - I don't know that I've heard the direct quotes - but Harper’s answer sounds like it was too far in the other direction.

We don’t need blustering, macho reassurances, we need cool heads and determined hearts. Action, yes, but reflection too.

UPDATE: OK, after reading Trudeau's comments in Kay's column (here:, I'll concede that his words were kinda flaky. I'm not shocked: flaky is the imrpession i get from him. But I think my critique of Harper's reply and the radio host's agreement with Harper is still valid. It's important to consider causation, regardless of Trudeau's clumsy, even off, way of making the point.

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Recent comments

  • D. Scott
    April 22, 2013 - 10:00

    Okay, maybe I'm missing something his comments don't seem that "flaky". I don't know that I'm a fan of Trudeau. Nothing against him but I'm not confident in the selection process political parties especially the Liberals have used lately. It doesn't seem productive to me that parties avoid detailed discussion of policies and philosophies in order to avoid dissent within their ranks (or the reporting of it by sensationalized misleading headlines). That party leaders are selected solely on the basis of charisma. That politicians and media want to try to convince the electorate that the world is a simple place where the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys where black (and my opponent is wearing the black hat). This view of the world makes it so much easier to sell newspapers and keep your supporters in line! Unluckily, you don't actually get anywhere. I'm not pessimistic because the solutions we are provided with are so poor, but by the fact that most people (including politicians) don't even seem to understand the problems. Don't get me wrong, killing and maiming people is probably as close to the black hat as you can get. But a response born out of grief and a need for revenge is exactly what these guys (whoever they are) want. They'll kill us, we'll kill some of them and bring them more support. This is why terrorists do what they do. By itself, killing innocent civilians doesn't accomplish anything. Their worst fear is serious consideration of underlying problems and motives, and a just and considered response. I don't see anything in Trudeau's comments that suggest he wouldn't make this response. On the other hand, he doesn't make a suggestion on what this response would be. Unluckily, politicians that consider problems and make suggestions are punished by the media. It's much easier for the media to remove context and simplify solutions into right or wrong, in order to sell newspapers. For politicians the only solution is to string together meaningless words, that the electorate won't punish you for later. A considered response won't stop all terrorism, there will always be madmen but in the end all one can do is to minimize the amount of innocent blood spilled.