TCS Daily


Spain Asks "How High?"

By Val MacQueen - April 8, 2004 12:00 AM

When the results of Spain's national election were announced last month, Spaniards, in the main, gave a shudder of relief. On the previous Wednesday, outgoing Prime Minister José María Aznar's party had had a 5 percent lead. On Thursday, terrorists murdered 200 people in Madrid. On the Sunday, Azner's party lost by 5 percent. So a 10 percent swing within the course of four days. During the interim, three million Spaniards had changed their minds and voted to appease the terrorists.

Their apologists claim that they weren't necessarily voting for appeasement, because distaste for the war and fear of reprisals predated the outrage, with a huge tranche of the electorate opposing joining the Coalition right from the get-go over a year ago. Rather than excusing them for their perfidy, this tells us that there were millions of Spanish who had decided on appeasement even before they got a threat.

An estimated 10 million Spaniards mourned their victims in public squares throughout the country as they gathered in silence to "say no to terrorism," whatever that was supposed to mean. The shops were all closed and shuttered to also "say no to terrorism." They wore their little black ribbons. They carried candles and signs that said "Paz" even while the Coalition's armed forces, who had volunteered to put their own lives in danger to defeat terrorism with real action, were dying for democracy in Iraq.

This was not only contemptible, but stupid.

Fellow traveler (and election victor) José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced within, it seemed like, 10 minutes of being elected that he was withdrawing Spain's contribution to the war on terrorism. Unashamed that they'd handed al-Qaeda its first election victory ever, Spaniards heaved a sigh of relief. They'd bought the terrorists off with their vote.

Despite left-wing endorsements for their "courage in saying no to terrorism," it struck this commentator that there was more chance of Osama bin Laden's daughter heading for downtown Riyadh on a Friday afternoon to take part in a wet burqa contest than there was that al-Qaeda would lay off Spain.

Al-Qaeda had said "Jump!" and the Spanish had asked "How high?"

Obviously, it wasn't high enough, because the terrorists were back within days with a bomb, spotted by an alert guard and defused, on the rail of the high-speed train link between Madrid and Seville. It had the same type of copper wiring attached as had been used in Madrid. The Spanish reeled in shock. How could al-Qaeda do this to them when they'd shown such willingness to play ball?

Spanish intelligence and the police discovered a pod of Moroccan terrorists fairly quickly -- in fact, so quickly it leads one to suspect that these people were already known to intelligence and had been judged non-lethal. Interior Minister Angel Acebes said police found 10 kilograms of dynamite and 200 detonators in the apartment they were occupying. Five of them blew themselves up, and others were arrested. Shooting terrorists on the spot seems to be regarded as rather bad form these days.

Then, on April 6, it was reported in several newspapers that hours before the terrorists killed themselves on Saturday, the group that had claimed responsibility for the March 11 bombings had sent a fax to ABC, a newspaper, warning it would turn Spain "into an inferno" unless the country withdrew its support for the United States and pulled Spanish troops from Iraq and Afghanistan stat. "If these demands are not met, we will declare war on you and ... convert your country into an inferno and your blood will flow like rivers," the letter said. Terrorists are like that. They eschew nuance.

I am not the only British commentator who made the immediate connection between the Spanish appeaseniks (apparently most of the country) and Danegeld. The word is burned deep in the body of English folk memory. In 991, the English had been bested by the marauding Vikings (in this instance, Danes) in a long and bloody battle in a remote part of the country. They continued to fight on after defeat, until the Archbishop of Canterbury advised the King -- Ethelred the Unready -- to buy off the Vikings rather than continue the struggle. The first payment was 10,000 pounds of silver.

One of the things that Ethelred wasn't ready for was, it took the Danes all of around one minute to figure they were on to the deal of a lifetime. They trousered the silver and went home to Denmark.

In 994, they were back.

This time they sought a higher profile by laying siege to London itself. Once more, to save English lives and property, they were bought off with an immense sum of silver. This gave them an idea. Next time, they wouldn't bother to actually invade. They would just go ahead and get the silver up front in return for staying home.

Payments continued to be made to keep the Danes at home for 17 years, the last one having escalated to 82,500 pounds of silver.

The word Danegeld is still in common currency in England today, so deep is the folk memory. Less than a hundred years ago, the poet Rudyard Kipling wrote:

It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation,
To call upon a neighbour and to say:--
"We invaded you last night -- we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away."

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you've only to pay 'em the Dane-geld
And then you'll get rid of the Dane!

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray,
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: --

"We never pay any one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost,
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!"

Spain paid the Danegeld. They'll never get rid of the Dane. Al-Qaeda will be back for more -- and the price will escalate. Things move faster than they did in Ethelred's day. A large part of Spain was a caliphate 500 years ago. They want it back.

Val MacQueen recently wrote for TCS about the "Veiled Threat."


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