July 3, 1988 – The Persian Gulf – A ship-to-air missile fired from the USS Vincennes downs an Iranian civilian airliner, after mistaking it for a fighter jet, killing all aboard. Bodies floated in the water of the Gulf.
January 16, 1989 [MLK Day] – Miami, FL – A policeman shoots a suspect on a motorcycle and kills him. The incident precipitates what became known as the Super Bowl Riots. The officer is convicted by a court in Miami, but acquitted when his appeal is moved to a more force-friendly venue.
March 19, 2003 – Iraq – An immense army invades a country based on faulty (if not manufactured) evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Hundreds of thousands dead – so far.
May 31,2010 – the Eastern Mediterranean – Navy commandos board a flotilla of stubborn idealists on a [provocative (if that’s not an oxymoron)] humanitarian mission, and open fire on them, killing at least nine.
In each of the above cases, the use of power, often obscene, was justified as permissible, excusable, by those who exercised it. In each of those cases, the threat was not even real – just a warped perception of the facts at hand, seen through the gauzy filter of programmed enmity. In each of those cases, there were smarter, safer and more reasonable responses available to those who had their fingers on the triggers.
Particularly in the case of the latter, the confrontation did not begin with deck hands swinging steel bars; it began with the navy believing it had no other choice but to board. (It could be argued that it began 43 years ago, but that is a discussion for another time.)
As long as we continue to accept that violence is a reasonable response to any threat – real or imagined – there will be misguided maneuvers conducted by fearful automatons with potentially catastrophic, even deadly, results. Seeing no other way to keep a perceived threat in check, the fearful lace up the heavy boots and grab the ammunition.
This is where we need the United Nations to step up to its potential as an organization committed to abating the threat of war between nations. Too often, the UN reacts to crisis instead of attempting to mitigate it. Then, when there is a crisis, inevitably someone on the Security Council quashes any statements that may potentially threaten the strength and sovereignty of an ally.
The deflective “it’s not me; it’s them” approach to global affairs is unproductive by its very nature. Suspicion belies a real commitment to peace. As long as the UN works toward supporting toward its member-nations’ dysfunctional approach to peace, they assume the posture of the one whose blade is at the end of a sword waiting for blood, not the one whose blade cuts rows in the ground for food.