Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2001 / 24 Tishrei, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Tony Blair's finest hour

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- I KNEW -- well, I'd hoped -- that George W. Bush could be eloquent when the occasion demanded it. As he was when he addressed Congress and the world after Sept. 11. It helped to have interviewed the man a time or two offstage, when his strength and ease come through.

It also helped to know a couple of the president's speechwriters, one of whom I'd once tried to hire as an editorial writer. (He decided a life of daily deadlines wasn't for him, but I continue to admire his handiwork and am glad it's now devoted to public service.)

But no speech alone can be eloquent; it must be validated by the character of the speaker. And this president's character has shown, perhaps because it reflects the character of the American people.

I wasn't as sure about Tony Blair, the British prime minister, and how he would respond to the clear and present challenge. I had forgotten his role in the late unpleasantness over Kosovo, when at times he seemed the only political leader in the West who wasn't going wobbly.

Back then, Tony Blair not only followed but led, especially when it came to supporting the use of ground troops in that endurance test -- an increasing prospect that may have finally cracked the aggressor's resistance.

It was Tony Blair, come n hearts.

When an old friend not only rallies to one's side, but goes above and beyond friendship into the realm of vision and conviction, it is a heartening thing to see. And if I hadn't seen it, if I had only read the core of the speech and didn't know it had been delivered by Tony Blair, I'd have guessed its author was Margaret Thatcher. His words had that much iron, that much authority, and that much character in the face of an evil the rest of the world has not wanted to face year after year.

Tony Blair's was an expression not only of friendship but of leadership. Once again a British leader had appealed to the essence of what Winston Churchill called the English-speaking peoples. It was good to be reminded that the English tongue is not only a treasure but an armory. With simple words, old words, fit words, Tony Blair faced the inescapable facts and drew the inescapable conclusions.

The queen's first minister not only faced facts but faced down the loony left of his own party, which for once was stunned, or shamed, into silence. He demonstrated that the most eloquent of words can be the plainest:

As when he began by speaking softly of his meeting in New York with the survivors of the many British victims of this attack not just on America but on civilization:

It was in many ways a very British occasion. Tea and biscuits. It was raining outside. Around the edge of the room, strangers making small talk, trying to be normal people in an abnormal situation. And as you crossed the room, you felt the longing and sadness; hands that were clutching photos of sons and daughters, wives and husbands imploring you to believe them when they said there was still an outside chance of their loved ones being found alive, when you knew in truth that all hope was gone.

And then a middle-aged mother looks you in the eyes and tells you her only son has died, and asks you: Why? I tell you: You do not feel like the most powerful person in the country at times like that.

Because there is no answer. There is no justification for their pain. The woman, seven months pregnant, whose child will never know its father, did nothing wrong. They don't want revenge. They want something better in memory of their loved ones.

I believe their memorial can and should be greater than simply the punishment of the guilty. It is that out of the shadow of this evil, should emerge lasting good: destruction of the machinery of terrorism wherever it is found ... .

One by one, Tony Blair went down the list of complicated excuses for not resisting evil and, one by one, he revealed their nakedness with only a word, a phrase, a simple sentence, making clear what all know but some would still hide:

Don't overreact, some say.
We aren't. No missiles on the first night just for effect.
Don't kill innocent people.
We are not the ones who waged war on the innocent. We seek the guilty.
Look for a diplomatic solution.
There is no diplomacy with bin Laden or the Taliban regime.
State an ultimatum and get their response.
We stated the ultimatum; they haven't responded.

Understand the causes of terror. Yes, we should try, but let there be no moral ambiguity about this: Nothing could ever justify the events of 11 September, and it is to turn justice on its head to pretend it could ... .

Listen to the calls of those passengers on the planes. Think of the children on them, told they were going to die.

Think of the cruelty beyond our comprehension as amongst the screams and anguish of the innocent, those hijackers drove at full throttle planes laden with fuel into buildings where tens of thousands worked ... .''

It was about time someone said it: Nothing could ever justify the events of 11 September, and it is to turn justice on its head to pretend it could. Tony Blair then put a question that is not a question at all,days and months and years ahead in the long, often unseen war to come, it will be good to remember, though all the uncertainties and divisions that will surely arise, Tony Blair's clear voice.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, and Godspeed us all. In the words of another absolutely clear and unyielding British prime minister, Winston Churchill, you have drawn "from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival, and of a victory won not only for ourselves but for all.''

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