Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Handling of Crisis Provokes Mixed Reaction

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Editor's note: These are some of the hundreds of readers' letters we have received in the past few days.

That my conversation with a taxi driver on my way home on Saturday night should turn to the hostage situation in Moscow and the war in Chechnya was perhaps inevitable. Less predictable were the views expressed by my driver -- that the war should be stopped and the republic ceded ("Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus: Why not Chechnya?").

Of course, it would be foolish to take the view of one taxi driver as representative of public opinion, and there are those who favor escalation instead of withdrawal. Despite the desperate, heat-of-the-moment rallies led by hostages' families, widespread sympathy for the Chechen cause is not on the cards. But practical considerations are. In transporting the war momentarily from the virtual to the real plain, this horrific act of terrorism has undeniably served as a wake-up call to Muscovites, demonstrating that war can strike any time, anywhere, and bringing home what a nasty business war is for most parties involved.

Such a wake-up call inevitably results in a change in attitudes. Whichever way the pendulum of public opinion eventually swings in terms of solutions to the problem -- i.e. toward withdrawal or escalation -- and whatever steps the government decides to take, most Muscovites will surely agree on the following: War is no fun, Moscow is within its reach, and young Russians are pointlessly dying in what has always been a no-win situation for Russia, so let's put a stop to it all.

The death toll of the hostages is at 118. I hope it will not rise. Who knows how many deaths the Chechnya conflicts have claimed altogether? My heart goes out to all the hostages in hospital and their families, as well as all those who have lost loved ones in the conflict.

Ivan Jankovic

Basic First Aid

In response to a letter from Geoffrey Welch on Oct. 28.

I notice that a recent letter praising the role of the Alpha force in the hostage crisis was from a former British soldier.

He would know, then, that one of the first things a British soldier learns in training is not how to take lives but how to save them. One of the initial principles he learns in basic first aid is to make sure unconscious casualties are placed so that they are lying on their stomachs. This avoids the danger of their dying from choking on their vomit (natural in situations where gas is used) or from swallowing their tongues.

All of the unconscious hostages I saw were laid out on their backs or placed in a sitting position. Many thus died not from poisoning but from inadequate first aid. The Alpha force, police, etc., would have saved far more lives given just a modicum of first aid knowledge.

Rod Thornton
Shrivenham, England

Breaking the Cycle

In response to "Break Cycle of Violence in Chechnya," an editorial on Oct. 29.

I totally agree with the last sentence of your editorial about violence in Chechnya: "Or [Vladimir] Putin can try to break the cycle of violence and start treating Chechens as fellow citizens."

This is a simple recipe, but surely the only viable way to ensure peace in the long term. In my opinion, it is the responsibility of the stronger party to take the first step to break the cycle of violence.

The main challenge to leaders like Putin is to keep two thoughts in their head at the same time: Pursue and punish the terrorists and criminals, while extending a hand of help, reconciliation and support to the vast majority of suffering innocent, ordinary people, whether they are in Chechnya, Palestine, Afghanistan or other troubled areas.

Per Synnes
Asker, Norway

Praise and on Naysayers

I am writing in praise of the management of the hostage crisis and in criticism of the cynical tone carried by almost all of the reports I have read in the Russian and American media concerning the end of the siege and the "controversial" use of an unnamed gas.

Only once have I heard about the sheer volume of explosives laid by the hostage-takers throughout the building, all of which were defused. In the mainstream media I have not heard any commentary about the thousands of lives that could have been lost had the terrorists been allowed to detonate their explosives.

This siege could have been a tragedy on the scale of the Twin Towers if we had lost not only the several hundred theatergoers and actors, but the crowds of families, the highly trained troops of the special forces, the policemen, the media professionals, the medical workers and the foreign dignitaries who were present at the scene. What about the damage that could have been caused and lives that could have been taken by the explosions and subsequent shock waves passing through the neighborhood?

Yes, it is terrible that syringes with the antidote were not readily available and immediately administered to the victims of the gas, that there were not enough trained and organized medical personnel or ambulances present to properly tend to the wounded. But, considering the number of informants and accomplices to the terrorists who were on the outside (including police officers), can we really imagine that the special forces would be able to let everyone know ahead of time what they were planning on doing and when?

Let's be realistic and focus on solutions to problems instead of imagining needless drama.

Instead of solely focusing on criticism of a very effective (and relatively peaceful) solution to an extremely violent situation, can we mention the fact that the average doctor in Moscow makes no more that $200 a month? That in Russian hospitals disposable gloves are re-sterilized and reused until they have huge holes and are thrown away? That needles are in short supply and there is not enough linen for patients to have clean sheets and gowns every day?

Maybe in the budget revision now being advertised by the Russian government the authorities can put as much emphasis on improving health care facilities and health education as they do on warfare and weapons.

Chardonnay Vance
Minneapolis, Minnesota

It is with a great deal of regret that the outcome of the Moscow theater crisis ended with so many innocent people losing their lives. I join all Americans in expressing our deepest condolences to all those who lost family and friends in this barbaric act. However, Vladimir Putin was not to blame, no more than George W. Bush was to blame for the events leading up to Sept. 11, 2001.

Concerning mounting criticism of Putin's decision, just remember there will always be those who view a glass of water as being half full, while the others will claim it is half empty. There were approximately 700 innocent lives held hostage, who could have been blown to pieces at any moment. Any direction taken was an enormous risk. No one doubted for a moment that the terrorists were serious, nor could any government rationally give in to the ransoms demanded without inviting more of the same in the future. Putin opted for the risk of potentially losing some innocent lives, rather than all of them. This "half full" approach was both reasonable and justified.

Perhaps what is not as rational is the fact that the hospitals were not given information about the type of gas used or that an antidote was not on hand and immediately made available to survivors. One can only wonder if the old Soviet military mentality was at play and that remnants of the Iron Curtain remain alive and well.

Is this drug concoction some Russian military secret that would be construed by the world to be a chemical weapon forbidden by countless treaties? One can only wonder about the official silence.

Perhaps Russians, as well as Putin, will now understand that there is no immunity concerning terrorism caused by radical Islamic fundamentalism. If Chechnya falls into their hands, so in time may Russia itself. Despite past differences, Americans feel a close bond with Russians. It is time we became more than allies in tackling this enemy that is bent on destroying us all.

Dick Fowler
Houston, Texas

First I want to say that I'm very sorry about the loss of so many innocent people, but what else could Vladimir Putin have done?

If he hadn't acted, I'm convinced the terrorists would have blown up the theater and everyone would have died. The police and special forces did a fantastic job, and I applaud them. Without their bravery, so many more would have died.

Now that this tragedy has happened in Russia's capital, it has got to open up some eyes. Maybe now Russia and the United States can work together to stop international terrorism, because if we don't then God help us all.

William Webb
Tampa, Florida

Back to the U.S.S.R.?

The world is shocked at the theater disaster. Sadly, I am just as shocked at the reaction of the Russian government in refusing to name the gas employed and supply an antidote to its own citizens.

This so-called democratic government does not look or act any differently from its totalitarian Soviet predecessor. After the public relations disaster over the handling of the Kursk sinking it looks like no lessons have been learned.

The public in any Western democracy would not tolerate being treated this way.

Michael Kealey
Glasgow, Scotland

In response to letters published on Oct. 28.

Did Geoffrey Welch, Barry O'Regan, Eugene Leonenko and many others ever ask themselves a very simple question: What would their reaction be if it were their daughter, wife or mere acquaintance was killed as a side effect of the "magnificent saving of so many lives"?

As for me, I consider it as one more demonstration of total disrespect for human lives -- an intrinsic feature of all Russian authorities. For them, the choice between "horrible tragedy, in which all the hostages would die, and a horrible disgrace," as Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov put it, is not a choice at all.

Horrible disgrace is much worse than 150 or more corpses. It's quite explicable that some Russians are praising Vladimir Putin and the FSB for this operation. Russians are used to the concept of les rubyat -- shchepki letyat, meaning that there must be some dead bodies on the way to a bright future.

What struck me is that there are many foreigners, Westerners included, who seem to be getting used to this idea too.

It seems to me that you should have been born in Russia, learned all the nonsense about communism for 20 years in a school and been protected from yourself by future President Putin and his colleagues to understand at last that there is no bright future behind children's dead bodies.

Sergey Ivanov
Trondheim, Norway

Know Your History

When people are scared, they strike back instinctively. I hope that Vladimir Putin will show more statesmanship than George W. Bush does in fighting terrorism. If Putin wants to demonstrate to the enlightened world that he deserves his position as ruler of modern Russia, he ought to use this opportunity to start negotiations with the Chechens. There is no end to guerrilla warfare anyway. Why are statesmen so inclined to think that violence will solve their problems? Do they not know their history?

Hjordis Otneim
Trondheim, Norway

Treat the Disease

Having read numerous editorials about the hostage drama in all sorts of publications, we discuss the implications the crisis will have on the Chechen conflict (witness new attacks by the Russians in Chechnya), debate the psychological aspects of the mad nephews of warlords and wonder about the aftermath of the use of warfare-grade gas on the hostages and hostage-takers.

I think, however, that we are missing the point. How disconnected we are from reality that everything can be reduced to statistics, political strategies, "relative" gains (what a concept!) and military guidelines.

Let's not forget the key issue here: Last week, 50 men and women felt so desperate that they -- at the clear risk of losing their own lives -- decided their only option was to threaten the life of 800 other men and women. The only way to solve this situation was to kill 170 people.

Let us stop for a moment and ponder what we can do to prevent situations like this from occurring. Let's stop treating symptoms and get to the root of the illness.

Juhani Grossmann
Landegg International University
Wienacht, Switzerland

Maryland Empathy

My prayers go to the victims of the theater attack.

Yet I also empathize with the police, military and others in authority dealing with the crisis. The outcome was imperfect, as most outcomes are in such situations. But the ordeal is over and the many survivors will, I am sure, be grateful to their saviors.

I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, where recently we underwent our own small meeting with terror in the form of a sniper and his teenage sidekick. The press, and many others, used the event to grandstand their own personalities and agendas. Their tactic was to second-guess the police, making the authorities seem either incompetent or overreaching. In hindsight it becomes clear that our authorities acted superbly under the circumstances.

Those circumstances at the time were filled with incomplete or misleading information, threats of more death looming over all considerations, and then the chaos of too many "experts" all jockeying for position. It was in fact "the fog of war" under which battlefield decisions were made. Moral judgements must allow for this. Professional judgements will be made to the benefit of all in the future.

I bring this up to draw attention to the parallel here. I would hope that Muscovites don't judge their own "blue line" harshly. From what I see from my remote post, I think you all achieved an optimum outcome under impossible circumstances.

Evil is not glamorous -- it is mundane, ordinary people committing horrendous acts. The banality of evil was displayed once quite well to the world in Nuremberg over 50 years ago. Part of serving justice in these cases is to show the world the banality and ugliness of evil.

I pray justice will be served in Moscow.

Mark Baldwin
Brinklow, Maryland