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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 18:54 GMT 19:54 UK
Viewpoint: Fear of a 'messy war'
Manhattan skyline
The Manhattan skyline, forever altered
Journalist Paola Buonadonna explains how many Italians feel about US plans for retaliation against the perpetrators of last week's devastating attacks.

I got the news via a text message on my mobile phone, while I was sitting on a coach in a remote area of Turkey.


The worst case scenario for the average Italian today is not another terrorist outrage

I called my friend back, to tell him his joke wasn't funny. But it wasn't a joke at all - that night I saw for myself the surreal spectacle of Manhattan drowning in a ocean of black smoke.

Although I have lived in Britain for many years I found myself instinctively sharing the Italian reaction and the Italian fears.

Paola Buonadonna
Paola: Italy is a pacifist country
The worst case scenario for the average Italian today is not another terrorist outrage, maybe on Rome or Paris.

Sadly, we've had our share of those over the years. Unlike America, we never felt invincible, secure, beyond reach.

The worst case scenario for us is that of a hastily planned, dragged out, messy war in which innocent civilians would be the only certain victims.

My country is one of the Western gateways to the Middle East - we can't afford to see the nations in that region as straightforward "enemies" to punish - they're our neighbours as well.

When President Reagan attacked Libya in 1985 we in turn became a Libyan target. A missile narrowly missed a island off Sicily.

Refugees

And even if a reactive strike was successful, who would pick up the pieces after the dust settles?

During the Balkan conflict the refugees were literally pouring in, the Adriatic coast being their first port of call.

The first Italy-US flight after the attacks
All changed: The first Italy-US flight after the attacks
I am not remotely surprised by the lukewarm reaction of the Italian premier to the idea of sending troops.

However right-wing Silvio Berlusconi and his party might be, they know they represent a fundamentally pacifist country.

And whatever the British prime minister might say I'm also not persuaded that the British people are itching to fight.

Opinion polls at the time of the Nato air strikes on Kosovo were very negative, and that was a "safe" war if any ever was, fought from the air.

My flight back from Istanbul was surprisingly smooth. We didn't suffer massive delays, or even the slightest air turbulence.

But sitting up there amid the clouds my fellow passengers and I knew everything had changed.

We were well aware that in a matter of seconds we too could become a living bullet - at once victims and deadly weapons.

And as we approached the red light blinking on the top of the tower at Canary Wharf I found myself muttering a silent thank you to whatever god is still magnanimous enough to love us.

See also:

17 Sep 01 | Europe
Europe cautious over US response
17 Sep 01 | Europe
US in security talks with Russia
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