Facing an Enemy that Wields Kids as Weapons

NPR Senior News Analyst Ted Koppel comments on the resolve of enemies who will use children as shields — or blow them up in cars with bombs. What are we up against?

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TED KOPPEL: The coalition air strike in Afghanistan the other day, the one that killed seven children inside a religious compound, what happened there?

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

NPR's Senior News Analyst Ted Koppel.

KOPPEL: According to witnesses quoted in a coalition news release, the suspected terrorists who had taken shelter inside the compound kept the children inside when they tried to leave - beat them, push them away from the door. Let's assume that is true. Whatever actually happened, many Afghans are still blaming the Americans.

There was an incident three months ago in Baghdad. A car had been stopped at the U.S. Army checkpoint. There were two children in the back of the car, so the American soldiers let it through. The adults parked the car on the other side of the checkpoint, and then with the children still sitting in the back, they detonated a bomb that was concealed in the car. The children were killed, as were three other civilians.

Those coalition pilots over Afghanistan killed seven children inside a compound inadvertently, unknowingly. The adults in Baghdad used two children to get through a checkpoint and then deliberately murdered them in order to also kill some bystanders. Is there no moral distinction between the two? Of course, there is. But what if it's a distinction without a difference?

Francis Ford Coppola struggled with the issue in "Apocalypse Now," his movie about America's war in Vietnam. Marlon Brando in the role of Colonel Kurtz, a renegade Special Forces officer, delivers a chilling account of what happened after he and some of his men inoculated the children of a small village.

The Vietcong came to the village and hacked off all the inoculated children's arms, left them in a pile. After his initial outrage and agony, Kurtz says an epiphany. My God, he says, the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized, they were stronger than we.

He concluded, if I had 10 divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment. Without judgment, because it's judgment that defeats us.

I know it's just a movie, the line spoken by a character who's certifiably insane to boot. But these days, in the face of enemies who use children as a diversion and a shield, who have perfected the tactic of suicide bombing, for whom terror is an essential weapon of war, you have to hope that Kurtz was wrong and the judgment, one of civilization's essential ingredients, will be the source of our salvation and not our defeat.

This is Ted Koppel.

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