The Turtle and the Snake: An Anecdote About Terrorism

By: Robert E. Meyer

Most of us have heard at one time or another various iterations of the parable of the turtle and the snake. For those needing refreshing, or for those unfamiliar with the story, let’s allow for a brief review as I understand the anecdotal story.

Mr. Snake approaches Mr. Turtle on a river bank and asks Mr. Turtle for a ride across the water since he can’t swim the river himself. Mr. Turtle politely refuses to oblige, reasoning that if he were to give Mr. Snake a ride across the river, he would surely be bitten. Mr. Snake protests saying that it would be foolish for him to bite the one carrying him, since it would result in him perishing also. Mr. Turtle considers the argument, then agrees to ferry Mr. Snake over the broad river. When they are half-way across the river Mr. Turtle feels a sharp pain and realizes he has been bitten by Mr. Snake. As the venom is beginning to take effect, Mr. Turtle sadly and resolutely asks Mr. Snake why he bit him, since the biting will also result in Mr. Snake’s demise. A wry smile came upon Mr. Snake’s face. “I bit you because I am a snake Mr. Turtle; that is my nature.”

I believe that the snake-turtle lesson is an appropriate analogy for the approach of the U.S. toward terrorism.

In the wake of the foiled terrorist plots in Britain, I phoned in a facetious editorial to my local paper’s editorial column. It read as such.

“All right, the terrorist plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic was foiled. That’s the good news. But I wonder what damage was done to civil liberties during the surveillance process. Is England on the road to becoming a police state? I understand that they have techniques where they can do a search and nobody knows whether someone was in their apartment or house. No trace of investigation is left behind. Is Prime Minister Blair prepared to face the potential criminal investigation for the rights of citizens he must have violated to accommodate these searches. And for what? To arrest a few people who must have had a legitimate grievance, or why would they want to harm anybody? I hope the authorities ask these people what they are angry about, so that we can negotiate with them. Aren’t you glad we won’t tolerate this behavior and scare people about terrorists in America?”

Shortly after the piece was published, I came across an acquaintance who told me that he enjoyed reading my editorial submissions. We discussed the particular piece above, and I told him the sad fact was that some people probably agreed with what I said, taking it at face value. I received confirmation of that possibility later that day. When I arrived home from work, I found a letter in my mail box with no return address. Inside was a letter that satired the idea of negotiating with

I still hear people saying that we must negotiate with terrorists. We must talk with them to find out what they want from us and why they are upset with us. But I believe I know what the terrorists want-they want to kill us and destroy our way of life. They might spare those of us willing to unconditionally convert to their ideology (as evidenced by the two Fox news reporters that were just released), but there is no cultural pluralism or peaceful co-existence in their vision of earthly utopia. There are many people out there who fail to understand this, and these appeasers harm our efforts against terrorism. The fact that America is divided on this issue gives them cause to press on, hoping to ultimately break the will of our country’s people.

You can’t negotiate with a rattlesnake any more than you can agree to a truce with a terrorist. You must understand the inherent nature and ways of your opponent. The mentality of terrorism is a single-minded objective-to vanquish us no matter the cost or the length of time it takes. Overtures of peace without conflict are therefore interpreted as signs of weakness; cease-fires are opportunities to consolidate and prepare for the next attack. That is what is happening in the Middle East right now with Israel and Hezbollah. It is only a matter of time before the next incident erupts like an active volcano.

We could all put up yard signs saying that “war is not the answer,” and it wouldn’t prevent one act of terrorism. The real question is whether peace is worth fighting for. I always wish the people with these signs would take them overseas-I don’t need convincing that war is evil, but some folks in the Middle East aren’t so sure. It’s like economics; don’t just concentrate on the demand side of the equation, but the supply side also.

The idea that our current foreign policy is creating more terrorism is devoid of reality. It can be compared to going up into an attic with a flashlight, finding a mess, and then deciding the flashlight caused the disarray. Remember that war was declared on us, and for many years after, we continued to treat terrorism as a law enforcement issue. The people who have just voted Joe Lieberman out of the democratic primary haven’t thoughtfully considered what they will do about terrorism once they get the guys they hate out of office. The dirt will still be under the rug, and a problem they will need to deal with. Look at the various countries that opted out of involvement in Iraq? How many of these countries are free of terrorism because of non-involvement? How about Spain, France, Indonesia, and Canada (where a ring of terrorists were recently arrested)? Terrorism started long before any involvement in Iraq.

If history repeats itself, I can only hope we aren’t repeating the costly international naiveté of the 1930′s.

Robert E. Meyer is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

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