Friday, September 03, 2004

Carnage in Russia

Blogging this as it happens. News breaking just now that terrorists have set off explosives in the gymnasium where from 400 to 1,000 people have been held hostage by Chechen Islamic terrorists. The roof has collapsed, from demolitions charges maybe, probably on the children. Casualties -- there's an antiseptic word -- will be heavy. The terrorists will all be killed, but who gives a damn, they've done their dirty work. The good news is that some children and other people have escaped. These are small mercies. The tactical situation seems confused. A goat rope. Survivors are being taken out on stretchers. Kids almost naked.

OK. Time to think about something I don't know already. I am looking at the future or maybe a future in the offing. But nothing is written. Nothing is written. Swear then by all the children you could not save that the next dead little one will not be yours. Wrong. Swear then that you will defeat them whatever it takes and into whatever hell you must go.

Russian troops in the building now. Cripes. There'll be blue on blue. OK. It'll be over in minutes. We're talking a platoon minus of Chechen terrorists. It can't last long. What did Dylan Thomas say?

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

They were just words.

10:44 Zulu

Preliminary is that no containing perimeter was set up, allowing the terrorists to rally in adjacent houses. Firefight still in progress. Maybe the Russians wanted to canalize an escape or give no warning of an impending assault. That's one interpretation. The other is that some incident, misunderstanding or plain accident sent the whole situation up in smoke with the Russians behind the curve. Russian newspapers have been very critical of security services in the past, calling them modern Keystone Cops. The dying isn't over yet, but it's all meaningless: the end is foregone. Till the next time.

11:30 Zulu

Interesting take by the NYT on the bloody end to the child hostage situation in Russia. The story concludes:

The violent end to the siege came only hours after Aleksandr S. Dzasokhov, the president of North Ossetia, told hundreds of relatives that the use force was not being considered but that patience was running out. He said that the authorities had turned to Chechnya's separatist leaders to help negotiate a peaceful end to a crisis that has stunned Russia.

Mr. Dzasokhov, meeting with relatives in a social center that would soon reverberated with nearby gunfire and explosions, said he had orders to open a channel to Alsan Maskhadov, the separatist leader who served as Chechnya's president until fleeing invading Russian forces in 1999. Mr. Dzasokhov and Ruslan Aushev, the regional political leader who negotiated the release of 26 women and children on Thursday, both called Mr. Maskhadov's chief representative abroad, Akhmed Zakayev on Thursday evening and again on Friday morning. That reversed the Kremlin's policy never to negotiate with men that President Vladimir V. Putin denounces as terrorists. Mr. Zakayev, who lives in exile in London and is wanted by the Russians on a series of criminal charges that he calls politically motivated, said in a telephone interview that he and Mr. Maskhadov were prepared to assist.

"I assured them that President Maskhadov was as distraught as they were," Mr. Zakayev said only minutes before chaos fell on this city.. "He is ready without any conditions to make all efforts to save these children and resolve this crisis." The contacts with Chechnya's separatist leaders - the first since a fleeting meeting between Mr. Zakayev and a Russian negotiator at a Moscow airport in Nov. 2001 - underscored the evident desperation facing Mr. Putin as heavily armed fighters threatened to kill their hostages, many of them schoolchildren. Even as the siege began on Wednesday morning, Mr. Putin reiterated his vow never to negotiate with terrorists or separatists from Chechnya.

The nascent entreaty, obviously, came too late.

This was written in the heat of the moment, about an hour and a half from the time the fighting broke out. The article looks to contain background material on the ongoing negotiations and reworked into the breaking story. I think it is fair to say the writers believed that if only a peaceful negotiation was allowed to take place then this violent event may never have taken place. We are presented with a laundry list of men of goodwill, never mind that they have records as long as your arm, who were perfectly willing to assist. But their nascent entreaties, alas, came too late.

It would be easy to take a cheap shot at this editorial attitude, but better I think, to let it stand on its own as an exemplar of the alternative view, which let's face it, is sincerely held by persons of a certain persuasion. And why should it not be true? Why can't we all get along? Those who have had some experience in jails or similar institutions know the temptation. Just give in so they'll leave you alone. But you'll find just as many graduates of the school of hard knocks who will swear the opposite: that if you give in, they'll never leave you alone. Most will never know how they will act until they've walked the mile in those shoes. Yet that encapsulates it all. To be or not to be.