So another plane comes out of the sky, this time turning a 9-mile stretch in Ukraine into a sad and terrible and bloody battlefield, now that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is shot out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile and nearly 300 people die. Now Vladimir Putin’s grubby war in Ukraine becomes everybody’s.
This is an act of terrorism and an insane act of war at the same time, not so long after a military cargo plane is shot down in this same area. So there are more families who will suffer what the families of Pan Am 103 suffered more than a quarter-century ago. It was Libyan terrorists responsible for blowing that plane out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland.
That was a day, of course, all the way back in 1988, when we began to fully comprehend the danger and scope and randomness of a terrorist world, of wars that we now know have no borders, or decency, or humanity.
And no end.
That day, it was so many college kids from our country on that Pan Am plane, 35 of them from Syracuse University alone, coming home from spending time abroad. On Thursday, it was people on their way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, before a missile hit them 33,000 feet over a country that has become the home of senseless death and ongoing civil war, in large part due to a dangerous dictator — what else is he? — like Putin in the country next door.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's war with Ukraine has now become everybody's war.
The 777, a great big jumbo jet, goes down about 25 miles from the border of Putin’s Russia, not the sanitized, smiley-face television Russia of the Sochi Olympics, but the Russia where Putin thinks he takes whatever he wants from a neighboring country in the name of his own weird, bug-eyed ambition, and finds enough rebels to support that ambition, no matter what the cost.
Now just over the border from Russia, we get another Lockerbie, a missile doing the job of mass murder this time instead of a bomb, the whole thing immediately described by the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, as “a terrorist act.” This time a Malaysia Airlines flight does not disappear or become some kind of ghost ship, it becomes the terrible pictures that the world began to see on Thursday afternoon.
When I heard about the plane going down on Thursday, I sent an email to my friend Brian Flynn, whose own life was informed by Pan Am 103 because his kid brother was on it, a brother who would be 47 years old today, a kid from Colgate University in 1988 who had been experiencing the excitement and adventure of studying abroad for a little while.
I said to Brian Flynn in the email that now more families will go through what his family went through, when his mother got the phone call from her husband that day and he had to tell her that their son’s plane had crashed in Lockerbie.
CROWN OFFICE/EPAAbdelbaset Ali Mohammed Al Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, was found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing that took place on Dec. 21 1988.
“If Russian-backed Ukrainian rebels targeted civilians, they are terrorists,” Brian Flynn said early in the day.
Now the world waits to find out if these pro-Russian and pro-Putin rebels actually believe, in some jihad way, that they can treat commercial airliners filled with innocent people, no differently than the military aircraft they now routinely shoot down.
“You can see,” Brian Flynn said on Thursday, “why the rebels are trying to distance themselves from this and fast.”
He has never given up on the day that took his brother from him. He worked as a vice president for Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 and went after Pan Am on willful misconduct before that airline went out of business and fought long and hard across the years for sanctions against Libya, and for the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act.
The reconstructed remains of Pan Am flight 103 lie in a warehouse on Jan. 15, 2008 in Farnborough, England.
You would say that another plane coming out of the sky, perhaps shot out of the sky, brings it all back, the loss of his brother J.P. But the pain and loss has never left Brian Flynn.
“There will never be closure,” he has always told me. “It always hangs in your life.”
In his life the capital of pain and loss and what-might-have-been was Lockerbie. In the lives of the family members of those just flying from the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur, it will always be eastern Ukraine, where military aircraft have been downed recently, brought down because of a dirty little war.
Now the downed airliner is Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, origin the Netherlands. We wait to be told from which side of the Russian-Ukraine border the missile was fired. Maybe, and most likely, our government already knows. Before, this was Putin’s war. Now it is everyone’s.