BETWEEN THE LINES

Hard questions and harder answers

March 23, 2016

Tags: On Hurricane Island, author talk

This past week I’ve been doing a series of book events in Florida and D.C. promoting ON HURRICANE ISLAND, my novel about an ordinary woman who is suspected to have terrorist information, detained and interrogated. On Monday I spoke to 200 people at the annual author luncheon at a condo community in Boynton Beach. A wonderful group – engaged and thoughtful and terrific questions.

At book events, it’s not unusual for someone to ask a particularly hard question and I have to think fast. I know that my immediate answer isn’t the whole story, isn't the best response, and later I chew on what I could have said. That happened Monday, when a woman asked, “Doesn’t the government have the right to protect us from terrorists like ISIS? Even if they make mistakes every once in a while?”

What I said: Yes, the government’s job is to protect its people. But if we acknowledge that terrorist attacks are criminal acts by individuals and groups, not acts of war by nations, then we should use our criminal justice system to charge and try them. We should not respond by shredding the constitution and ignoring the rule of law. I also said that if we stopped invading and bombing other countries and killing their people with drones, there would be fewer terrorist attacks against us.

What I wanted to say: “The U.S. government made one of those “every once in a while mistakes” when it executed my mother-in-law. Ethel Rosenberg was held hostage to try to pressure her husband into confessing. That was NOT okay.

What I could have asked her: “Do you have grandchildren? If the government by mistake detained and interrogated one of your grandchildren, like they treated Gandalf in my novel, would that be okay with you?”

What I could have said: The logical conclusion of what you are saying is that it’s okay to do anything necessary to protect our country, as long as that anything is being done to someone else, someone you don’t know and love.

Or I could have quoted Benjamin Franklin: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Of course, whole books could be written on this topic and I keep thinking about other responses. Do you have suggestions of other things I could have, should have, said?

Comments

  1. March 23, 2016 2:23 PM EDT
    Isn't it amazing that we only come up with these comments long after the event. But I did like your first comment as well. Your comment about Ethel Rosenberg was blistering. So maybe this question from the audience as actually helped to add a layer to your readings and discussions.
    - Jacqueline Sheehan
  2. March 24, 2016 8:05 AM EDT
    As a grandmother, and a caring human being...I think your answer about "your own grandchild". Would have hit where it hurts. However, ELLEN, having been there, I can tell you your answers were more than sufficient.
    and, I can tell you, personally,.....THEY LOVED YOU!. Most of them got the message, without you actually putting it into words. Those 200 people are still singing your praises.
    - Anita Goldstein
  3. March 24, 2016 8:07 AM EDT
    Thanks so much, Anita. I loved them too!
    - Ellen Meeropol
  4. June 12, 2016 7:47 AM EDT
    As a public speaker I am familiar with this internal dialog of the 3 speeches. The speech I planned to give, the one I gave and the one I wished I'd given. The inner critic who always tells us what we coulda, woulda, shoulda said. I'm on a mission to help myself and others retire the inner critic. By the way I call mine an inner terrorist. When you catch yourself ruminating over what answer you could have given use this grounding exercise: say out loud, very fast and repeat as many time as you can with one breath, , , shoulda, coulda, woulda. The words will sound like, shit, cut, wood. Before you're done you will be laughing at yourself. ENJOY.
    - Nanci Adair