Sport as a weapon

New York

New York 

 © Inside F1, Inc.

It was mid-afternoon in Paris and I was pottering about as one does when the telephone rang and a pal in New York said: "Turn on the television. A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center". I did and I watched the whole horrible drama in Manhattan unfolding.

When I was a kid New York was always under attack from some bad guy or other but in the nick of time Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Bruce Willis, Sly Stallone or some other two-dimensional superhero would get there and everyone would be saved. But it didn't happen like that the other day.

It was very clear that the bad guys were winning this one.

In the end I reached a point where I could not cope any more with the devastation I was seeing. I turned off the television and tried to do something else. But every 15 minutes I had to turn the TV on again to see what had happened next.

I was like a kid hiding behind the sofa during the scary bits of a movie.

Human beings have a strange capacity when they see hurt befall others to wonder what it must be like if they were to find themselves in the same position. The imagination takes over and they say "It must have been awful". It is then that we wonder whether we would jump or whether we would face the flames.

I have always found that when really bad things have happened in life, it was not like that. There is no time for emotion. You deal with the anguish or the body parts or whatever it is that life is throwing at you and you just get on with living.

Emotions are for those who spectate, the Peeping Toms that we all are.

Nearly 20 years ago I was nearly blown up twice on the same day by people from Ireland with bombs. I was lucky. I saw a lot of different emotions in the people who were there with me but I did not feel their anger. All I wanted to know was why the bombers had done it and, being younger then, I went out of my way to find out. I visited pubs in unseemly places in West London and asked to meet dangerous people. And I did meet some weird characters who gave the impression that they represented (or at least supported) those who had perpetrated these appalling acts. I asked them why and they explained. I argued back once or twice but these were people with whom you did not argue. In one case the man was too stupid to understand the argument, in the other case he was frighteningly intelligent and had gone beyond rational argument. It was an interesting experience nonetheless.

After that I studied a lot of stuff about terrorism and how it works and why - at university and then later in research for a book I was writing about the French Resistance. Sifting through official papers in search of secrets I discovered one day that back in World War II the British ran an assassination school in a large country house just outside Hertford. Special Training School XVII taught the philosophy of assassination and other acts of terrorism.

This in itself is not that extraordinary but what was interesting was what they taught. Assassination, so went the theory, helped to foster the spirit of resistance. The killing of a German officer in France was usually followed by a harsh reprisals and these aroused strong sentiment among the French population. Some were so outraged that they joined the resistance. The danger was in going too far. If the person was too important or the bomb too big, the attack would have the opposite effect. Retribution would be massive and that would scare away recruits and new supporters. When secret agents assassinated Reinhard Heydrich - Heinrich Himmler's right-hand man - in Prague in 1942 the retribution was appalling. The village of Lidice was wiped from the face of the map and all the men, women and children were executed. The reaction to that was that the assassins were blamed for the reaction and the resistance suffered.

The people who destroyed the World Trade Center were not trained in the philosophy of warfare and other such erudite subjects. If they had been they would not have done what they did. There will, no doubt, be some retribution because the world will not accept what we saw in New York and in Washington. They have gone too far.

People will be arrested, tried and jailed. Others will be tortured and killed. There is no sympathy left for these people. And the governments that protect them will either fall or they will change their ways. Brutality results in brutality. But nothing is ever solved by it because those are killed will be martyrs for others.

The message that should be given is that terrorism does not pay. Life must go on. The terrorists and those who dance for joy at such terrible things must be forgotten for the moment. Their acts of violence must not be allowed to disrupt life any more than it must. If they can be taught that then one day they will come to the negotiating table. That is when problems are solved.

And in this respect sport is a powerful weapon. It is right that for a day or two sport should stop - as it has in the US - but by the weekend the show must go on again.

Grand Prix racing is the most powerful global weapon that exists in sport. It is watched by hundreds of millions and it can be used to deliver a message. If I were George W Bush I would plan to make an appearance at the United States GP at Indianapolis to use the global power of motor racing to show that messages can be delivered through sport, a weapon which is just as powerful as guns and bombs.

The fact that there will be a race is in itself a symbol to the terrorists, hiding under rocks in every godforesaken corner of the world, that their attacks have not had the effect they desire and that will hurt them more than Tomahawk missiles, Stealth bombers and B52s...

Print Feature