Today, in Paris, four ordinary people were awarded the Legion of Honour. Their merit, to have beaten up a guy with a Kalashnikov — who was most likely going to perpetrate yet another massacre in the name of some god. It is maybe silly to admit, but I have cried when I saw the video of the French President Hollande appointing the red-ribbon medal on the chest of those four braves.
I thought a lot about what happened on the Thalys train to Paris — and I reached two surprising conclusions (surprising to myself), in open contradiction to what I have always thought it was right.
If you anyhow are going to die
My first thought is that, facing a credible threat, action is preferable to inaction. At least when dealing with felons belonging to a certain cultural-ethnical-religious background. The old strategy — do as the man with the gun tells you to do — is not working when dealing with someone who believes in the afterlife. If a guy in the street would try to rob my wallet pointing a gun at me, I would probably just give him my wallet and the pin codes of my credit cards — and maybe also my business card, in case he would need more. But if I am on an airplane and someone wants to blow it up, well, better to jump all together on him, and try to kill the felon with bare hands. (What does people hold back? Well, for the fear to die. But if you know — and now-a-day we know — that everyone is going to die anyway, then you do better to take a chance of surviving!)
Guns and Roses
The second thought is just a consequence of the first: in today’s world non-violence does not make any sense. It was a cool idea to put flowers in the guns — but it works only if those holding the guns share with you at least a certain sense of humanity. When I was nineteen, I filed my application to the Italian Ministery of Defense, so to refuse to perform the military service. I was against armies, weapons, violence as a mean to resolve disputes. I still believe that war is evil, but I do also believe that there can be worse. Yazidi girls sold as sex-slaves and raped by ISIS fanatics cannot wait that — moved by my high moral standards of peace and universal love — their rapists would renounce violence. The same, when a guy with a Kalashnikov is ready to execute innocent passengers on a train.
No Legion of Honour, but State funerals
If a couple of those guys on the train would have not had a military training in the US armed forces, the news reports would have been very different today. No Legion of Honour, but State funerals.
Violence is needed, brute force saves lives. Yes, I know, I cannot believe myself that I am writing these words. The four heroes of the Thalys train punched the terrorist hard enough to make him to pass out — and they saved hundreds of lives. Imagine if, when the armed guy entered the meeting room of Charlie Hebdo, all together the journalists would have jumped on him. Or the hundreds of teenagers on the Utøya Island in Norway, could have overpowered the killer Breivik. Someone would have died anyhow, but not all, not so many.
We have to be ready for violence, ready to react, ready to attack. And yes, if this is the direction in which our peaceful west-European society is moving, then they have won.
Life of others is more disposable than mine
The question is, should I renounce my status of conscientious objector to the army? The Italian law consents, to those who declared their objection to serve in the army, the right to renounce this status. This is an irreversible procedure — once renounced, the status of conscientious objector cannot be regained.
So, do I still believe that armed forces are not the right answer? Would I not ever-ever embrace a weapon to defend my freedom and my family? Maybe the truth is not that I am against armies and the use of weapons. The truth is that I prefer to delegate my defense to others, others whose lives I feel are more disposable than mine.