Illogical violence may be the only logical response to ISIS

Published 10:05 am Friday, February 27, 2015

by John Railey

Our world leaders seem to be spinning their wheels on how to defeat ISIS, a hooded bunch of religion-warping cowards right out of a Klan coloring book who are spreading across the Middle East and into Europe like vomit spewing across the map.

They killed the Jordanian pilot by burning him alive inside a cage. Jordan hit back hard, including with air strikes that were supported by U.S. planes. But ISIS rages on, including the recent mass beheadings of Christians.

Even as a Quaker in progress and wannabe follower of Martin King, I reluctantly feel that force is the only way to stop ISIS before its count of sliced-off heads reaches into the hundreds. I’m biased here. Their death toll includes my brother journalists just trying to do their jobs, including that of telling the stories of these thugs. One reason I got into newspapering is because I hate bullies, and ISIS is the ultimate bully. I’m as tied into my newspapering tribe as ISIS is to its tribe.

A violent response will surely be stirred more as the 2016 presidential race heats up, with the candidates of both parties trying to out-hawk each other.

Violence may be the only logical response. But it’s not the solution. It’s a bottomless pit.

As I started to write this column, I was thinking we need a courageous and colorful warrior-turned-politician like British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who outgrew childhood alienation to, with President Roosevelt, stamp out evil and uphold freedom, smoking his trademark cigars and drinking all the way. Churchill’s wild ways and occasionally vulgar bombasts would have doomed him in the politically correct world of today. Yet Churchill’s words, in his speeches and his books, moved his kingdom to stand against evil and for freedom — and helped move our own country there as well.

But, as brutal and hard-won as World War II was, the enemies were easy to identify. And they sometimes played by some semblance of rules.

Not so with ISIS.

It’s useful to realize that these ISIS thugs who would kill our freedoms today, just as the Klan tried to here or the Nazis tried to in Germany, grew out of years of subjugation by the powers that be. In the case of ISIS, it was years of bombing and occupation by U.S. forces. It might just be possible that my visceral, tribal reaction to the violence of ISIS against journalists is somehow akin to the reaction of ISIS to violence committed by America in their homelands.

God knows I don’t excuse these murderers. I’m just trying to understand their motives. Anyone who would laugh off trying to understand their enemy is headed for defeat.

Might don’t make right, for us or them. The lofty thing to say is that our country’s long-term goal should be efforts on the ground to help educate the young of decimated desert countries before they hoist up assault rifles, bombs and knives.

But how are we going to do that if we bomb out more of their lands, unavoidably killing more women and children — and leaving more children to grow up furious at America? How are we to get in on the ground to help them now without getting beheaded?

And with a full-fledged violent response, cooperation from Middle Eastern countries might be limited at best. Some of the countries who do join us won’t be the kind you’d take home to mother. Most important, what kind of terrible danger will we be putting American troops in, be they captured pilots or even ground troops fighting far away from ISIS grounds but traded to ISIS?

But illogical violence might be the only logical response.

All this is easy enough to write in the safety of my office.

But there was a time when writers far better than me made great plans and moved their people to righteous action with their words: Lincoln in ending slavery. Churchill and FDR in winning World War II.

Flash forward to the 21st century and President Obama. He proved he was a fine writer with “Dreams from My Father,” the memoir of his mixed-race upbringing and so much else, including his bond with his World War II-vet grandfather. It was the stuff that moved Americans, even before Obama, as a greenhorn senator at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, gave that speech that propelled him to the White House.

But our president, despite the good he has done at band-aiding the war-mongering on Iraq of his predecessor, has yet to present a clear plan to stop ISIS. And now he offers sterile sound bites in a time, more so than any other, when we need decisive words. We keep waiting.

What would Churchill do in these strange and terrible times?

JOHN RAILEY, who grew up in Courtland, is the editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, which originally published this column. His email address is