Beware the Ides

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

"Beware the Ides of March!" was the soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar, which he ignored and went about his business — and met his fate. In this new century another date is significant, perhaps close enough to the 13th to be remembered as the Ides of September. Now, in the age of terrorism, we are constantly in a state of alert.

A version of this article was published by:
San Diego Mensan magazine, March 2003

"Beware the Ides of March!" was the soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar, which he ignored and went about his business — and met his fate.

In Roman times the expression "Ides of March" did not necessarily mean bad news—it was simply the way of stating the date. Other months have Ides too, on the 13th or 15th; and the Kalends fall on the 1st, the Nones on the 5th or 7th. But, the Shakespearean echo “Ides of March” still brings a sense of foreboding.

In this new century another date is significant, perhaps close enough to the 13th to be remembered as the Ides of September. Still referred to by the ominous emergency telephone number in the US, 9/11 is recorded in history as the infamous date of the largest hostile attack ever on the American mainland.

Every year our memories will refresh on that anniversary. And it will refresh too for the terrorists who launched that attack with results that exceeded their own expectations. Our own heightened sense of alert will perhaps be reflected by their intensified ambition to repeat the havoc that they caused. Beware the Ides of September!

But then again, why only in March or September? And why only the Ides, at mid-month? Terrorists everywhere are likely plotting and scheming to wreak havoc wherever and whenever they can. The un-nerving thing is that no one knows when, or where, or how the next terrorist attack will come. And that is how 9/11 has irretrievably changed our lives in this new century.

As I was writing this, the color-coded terrorist alert status in the US has been raised a notch to Orange alert, or HIGH, the second-highest possible (below the highest, Red-alert or SEVERE). (Note: A month later, the alert-level was reduced again to Yellow - Elevated). Paradoxically, we are advised to go about our normal business, keeping an eye open for suspicious activities. One wonders how many crank calls to the FBI an over-anxious populace generates.

The administration claims that there is indeed significant evidence for raising the level of alert; this is not a just-tobe- safe tactic. The FBI and CIA were seemingly caught unawares on 9/11, and they wouldn’t want another incident to occur without at least some kind of alert as a forewarning. They insist too that the increased activity is not due to the impending war with Iraq. However, it seems reasonable to suppose that anti-war extremists in Europe and the mid- East will inevitably generate increased terrorist activity.

As the war clouds gather, there is still considerable doubt regarding whether or not it is acceptable for the US to attack Iraq without UN approval. With domestic anti-war polls uncomfortably high, some observers wonder whether the increased alert is perhaps just a scare-tactic that will push more people into accepting that the war is justified.

And what will it be like to move to Red-alert? Would that be the equivalent of wartime conditions? Surely we recognize that an attack on Iraq, even a quick win, will cause repercussions – not only from those who are loyal to the current regime (however few), but from other extremists who feel that the US is simply bullying its way into territorial supremacy. Indeed, in a human sense, a rapid victory will humiliate the enemy and exacerbate the backlash!

The era of controlling populations with tanks, guns, missiles and fighter aircraft is something that is declining with the passing of the past century. The US is clearly the most powerful force in the world and its military power can conquer any country. But, the omni-present media make the process instantly visible to the world, and fuels an everincreasing number of extremists who are driven to violent action.

Tanks and guns, however powerful or plentiful, cannot stop individuals from rebellion and terrorism. In the current conflict in the Middle East, the tanks and guns that Israel sends to wreak revenge after suicide bombings do not stop the next lone, suicide bomber from continuing the conflict. In a world with millions of intercontinental air travelers every day, even with the utmost vigilance, how can a hundred suicidal passengers like the maniacal shoe-bomber ever be stopped?

A war on all forms of terrorist violence can be the only memorial to its victims. Killing thousands more innocent Iraqi victims, even in the righteous quest to depose their dictator, will not reduce terrorism. The cancer of terrorism took several decades to develop and it is clear that it will take a long time to eradicate. It involves changing the mindsets of whole generations. A sustained international coalition against all forms of terrorist violence would be the only true memorial to the already-too-many victims of transnational terrorism.

Peace is the natural and sincere wish of every normal man and woman, something that comes equally from the heart and the mind. The world’s conscience must awaken in this hour of the world’s dilemma. The cure for terrorism will come only with this understanding: "What am I doing to you that makes you want to kill me?"

In the meantime, beware the Ides...

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