Remember the magnificent ambassador scene from 300. Superb on so many instructive levels simultaneously:
First, it’s a masterclass in bad diplomatic negotiation technique by the arrogant ambassador of King Xerxes, who makes scarcely veiled threats in demanding just a small ‘token of submission’ instead of patiently exploring King Leonidas’ interests and needs.
Second, it is a subtle study in personal motivation. King Leonidas ponders his fateful decision, to the point of wavering. Then an almost imperceptible nod from his wife Queen Gorgo reminds him of his responsibility as the Spartans’ leader. Into the pit goes the ambassador. The limits of diplomatic immunity.
King Leonidas is still feted as a hero who, when faced with an overwhelmingly powerful opponent, walked straight to battle. The true story of the ensuing Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC lives on:
Go tell the Spartans, passerby:
That here, by Spartan law, we lie
Now, a mere 2496 years later, Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley offers a rather different approach:
Britons should ‘run away as far as possible’ if Islamic State terrorists hit London, the country’s most senior counter-terror police officer said today. Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said people should flee rather than ducking down where they are – and then hide once they cannot flee any further from the attack.
He said it was important for people to call police once they are in a safer location, adding that following the ‘run, hide, tell’ advice could help save lives if terrorists try to cause mass casualties …
‘It may seem blindingly obvious, but some people don’t run, they will duck down where they are, do all sorts of different things in the panic. So let’s be really clear – run as far away as possible and when you can’t run any further, hide, and then tell – call the police because we’ve got the people, the resources, the firearms to deal with it.’
There is something horrible about this official exhortation to us mere free citizens to flee when terrorism strikes. Think of the grand historical capital we have accumulated down the centuries allowing us to build the roads of our towns and cities. Did our forefathers make those investments imagining that a handy purpose of those roads would be to help us all run away from cowardly fanatics importing alien ideologies?
And in a blog post for the National Police Chiefs Council, Mr Rowley said he ‘couldn’t agree more’ with Sir Bernard’s assertion that Britain is a ‘hostile environment’ for would-be terrorists. He added the UK’s counter-terrorism advantages include tight gun laws and a close working relationship between police and the security services.
‘Tight gun laws’ did not help Lee Rigby, an off-duty soldier, from being hacked to death on the street by Islamist killers.
The way we each manage risk has been brought under state control without any clear consensus or even debate on what that means in moral terms. Something bad happens? Wait for the state’s experts to turn up. But, of course, when they arrive it may be too late. If they have not had the right Health and Safety training you may be left to die in a shallow municipal boating-pool. And, for good measure, any would-be volunteers including state experts themselves who naively want to try to save you will be given STRICT ORDERS not to do so:
‘The control room was informed I was going in and they sent a message that under no circumstances could I go in the water.’
I wonder why he obeyed that order.
Imagine a different world.
One in which the police give the public basic training in attacking terrorists. One in which the public are actively encouraged to throw themselves at terrorists and stop them, at any cost. One in which anyone citizen who dies in the attempt to stop terrorists will be given a special funeral of honour, with generous provision made for his/her surviving family. One in which there is no cause of action arising from any injuries sustained by a terrorist suspect when attacked by the public. Terrorists! Try to kill us all – if you dare.
A world of heroes. The world of Todd Beamer. The world of Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone. Maybe there are some traces of King Leonidas’ DNA in Alek Skarlatos: “a true citizen soldier who displayed the courage each of us would hope to find in ourselves”.
Yes. In this world of heroes more people fall fighting their enemies. But as King Leonidas reminds us, it’s not whether you die. It’s what you are – and how you live.
Go tell the British, passerby:
That in this boating-pool you’ll be left to die
+++ UPDATE +++
The President of Czech Republic now favours citizens fighting back with their own guns against terrorists:
“I really think that citizens should arm themselves against terrorists. And I honestly admit that I changed my mind, because previously I was against [citizens] having too many weapons. After these attacks, I don’t think so [anymore]”.
… President Zeman specifically took aim at the European Union (EU) which is using the recent terror attacks as a pretext to curtail gun ownership: “It is important that their right [to own and carry firearms] is not hindered as proposed recently by the European Commission. I am glad the Czech Republic is defending against this.”