On taking responsibility…..

This is a piece that I wrote for a Global Issues course a few weeks ago. The topic isn’t necessarily something I’m passionate about, but it is something that I believe is an important issue. Enjoy…Comment…Think….


Terrorism and environmental misconduct have common roots in selfishness and a lack of responsibility. As a 20-something in this era, I have been able to watch both of these problems develop over the last several years. September 11th is the act of terrorism that stands out the most in my memory, but perhaps it isn’t the greatest injustice perpetrated against a global community.

Terrorism, by and large, comprises numerous illegal acts. I believe that most countries would deem acts of terrorism to be illegal. The murder of many people at once is typically the end result of much terrorism. Outside of considering the 9-11 attacks on the United States, one of the most well-known acts of recent terrorism is probably the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

The film, One Day in September (Macdonald, 1999), is a fascinating look into the days and moments leading up to the killing of eleven Israeli athletes by the Palestinian group, Black September. This film shows us real footage of those events as newscasters from around the world try to help us understand the situation. Black September was demanding the release of over 200 Palestinian captives in exchange for the lives of these eleven athletes.

Being so far removed, culturally and temporally, from this event gives me a somewhat broader perspective on it. The members of Black September simply wanted the countrymen freed. For reasons that we may never understand, these men obviously used a violent scare tactic in order to gain the release of those people. Was it illegal for Black September to hold captive and ultimately kill the Israeli Olympians? A definite “yes,” especially where murder is concerned.

What makes this question challenging is that the crime was against Israelis by Palestinians on German soil. So the question then becomes was it a moral and ethical crime or was it a statutory offense?

Whatever the case may have been, Israel responded in similar fashion. Detailed in the book “Vengeance” by George Jonas (Simon & Schuster, September 2005), we are able to get a better understanding of the response to terrorism. The question becomes, “What is the point?” For the Palestinians, it was to get their countrymen back. For the Israelis, it was to avenge the murders of eleven of their countrymen. In responding, however, did they not become terrorists themselves? The same question might well be asked of America in response to 9-11.

According to George Jonas, “Terrorists are defined not by their political aims but by the means they use to achieve them” (Jonas, p. xxiii). Another possible definition would be “making a [ideological] statement by killing innocent people.” Your method of defining “terrorism” will reflect directly on your understanding of it.

By and large, the biggest difference between standard military operations and a terrorist operation is the covertness of it. Acts of terrorism happen outside of government sanctions and typically do not employ the military. In the case of “Vengeance,” the men who formed the operation were civilians, with the exception of the lead, who had military training when he was younger.

Often times, terrorists behave in opposition to their government(s), but because of the story of “Vengeance,” I absolutely do not believe that all terrorists are opponents of the government. The Israeli Prime Minister Golde Meir, after all, organized the team that went after the Palestinian terrorists. Additionally, when a person comes from a theocratic country, it is impossible to separate politics from religion. In the case of Islam, religion dictates politics.

The 9-11 terrorists have claimed a right of religious duty to explain their actions. Since they are from a theocratic society, no real case can be made that these men were opponents of their government. Thought they were likely Islam extremists, I tend to find more and more that the only “terrorists” opposed to government are American “terrorists” (i.e. “Jihad Jane” and Andrew Stack [www.abcnews.com]).

What I find interesting is that many Americans believe terrorists only come from other countries. Rarely have I heard someone talk about terrorist attacks that Americans have made on other countries. A great example of this is when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan to force their surrender in World War II. The effects, both on the people and the environment, are so far-reaching that we may never fully understand them. In my opinion, to deny that this was an act of terrorism seems foolish. In one fell swoop, over 70,000 people were killed and by the end of the year, some 140,000 had died from various injuries and radiation (www.cfo.doe.gov).

The results of the atomic bomb should lead us to question the issues of technological advancements as they apply to the environment. While it is easy to see the consequences of terrorism and the loss of life (because of its immediacy), it is much more difficult to see immediate results of environmental irresponsibility, which has an equally (if not larger) impact on the health and well-being of humanity.

I am a techno-junkie and absolutely love having the latest and greatest toys and equipment, the development (and discarding) of which has drastic effects on the environment.

It is not only iPods and computers that do this. We can look so much further back in our history to see what technological advances have done to the environment. Take cars, for example. The greenhouse gas emissions that cars produce, by and large, come from the burning of fossil fuels, those that fuel our vehicles (as well as our homes and businesses) (Gore, 22). Without the means to escape these greenhouse gases are trapped in the atmosphere, all the while dangerously increasing the temperature of the entire world.

America alone emits approximately 25% of all greenhouse gases on the planet. Add to this the amount of goods we import and consume from countries like China, a country with fewer regulations than us, and the United States has an even larger responsibility. While we are constantly on the lookout for new advances in technology, it is also incredibly important that we step back to consider what we are doing might be doing to the rest of the world. We need to think about how our actions affect the environment.

In his book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” (Rodale Books, May 2006) Al Gore discusses in great detail the effects that technological advances have had on the environment. He admits that technology has improved the quality of life for everyone, citing the light bulb as a huge advance. However, he warns that activities such as strip-mining have huge environmental consequences, some of which seem like they should be basic to understand. We all know that plants and trees emit life-giving gases so what do we think will happen when we strip entire mountain sides of trees? Those gases are no longer being pushed into the air for us humans to take in.

The United States emits more greenhouse gases that every other continent (except Europe) combined (Gore, 156). That creates a large environmental responsibility we must shoulder but our size, wealth, and power give us a unique advantage in creating resolutions to these issues. Some of the smartest people in the world come to our country to study and invent. Why not use this to our advantage and start using this intelligence to make more suitable technologies for our very consumer-driven society?

Humans are incredibly intelligent, but also remarkably selfish, especially in highly developed nations. We are all responsible for our own actions. Terrorists, no matter what country they are from, need to be held responsible for the mass destruction and murder their actions cause. At the same time, people from developed nations need to be held to a rather high standard of environmental responsibility. We can quickly see how many people were killed when the World Trade Center towers fell. What is challenging is to grasp the long-ranging effects of our environmental misconduct in nations halfway around the globe. While capitalism may make life more challenging in under-developed nations, our misuse and mistreatment of the environment could lead to the extermination of human life, as we know it.

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