On TV3's tawdry coverage of the "Fight for Life" a few weeks ago I saw All Black Eric Rush beat somebody up. Among the bouts I watched that night I particularly admired Rush's fight because he obviously didn't enjoy it one bit.

He came into the ring as nervous as any of the non-boxers who had agreed to put on the gloves for charity. The fascination of the exercise for me is to see men suddenly confronted by the difference between theory and reality.

Sometime between the opening bell and the first fist in their face they realise that the training they've been given in the rudiments of ringcraft have not prepared them for the desperate, brutal demands of survival there.


The fear makes some fight like demons. Rush went in against one such character and initially took a flurry of blows. But he was able to wear down the opponent, an Australian Rules player, and eventually knocked him to his knees.

As soon as he had won you could see him recoil with distaste. When a microphone was thrust in front of his sweating face he didn't pretend any pleasure. He said he would not be back.

You can define a civilised man, I think, by his response to violence, as well as the willingness to use it when the cause is good.

The winners of just wars celebrate their end and thereafter hold sombre services of remembrance. It is only the winners of wars they have needlessly started who must take every opportunity thereafter to celebrate the cause.

The second anniversary of September 11 this week was remarkably different from the first.

A year ago newspapers everywhere devoted pages to recollections of the horror and continued to worry about radical Islamic terrorism which had been scattered but not defeated by the bombing of Afghanistan.

Now, with United States forces mired in Iraq, there appears to have been a catharsis. Those who bothered to observe the anniversary this week did so with a nod to New York and not much more.

An editorial in the British Independent found the events of just two years ago already "strangely distant, reminder of a past, perhaps more innocent age". Of all the conclusions drawn from September 11, it said, "the 'war on terror' declared by President Bush in its wake has been at once the most dangerous and the most futile".

The American President, who last September 11 went to Ground Zero, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, kept to Washington this time, attending a service near the White House and visiting a hospital to greet soldiers wounded in his Iraq escapade.

This time last year, after the Taleban had been driven from Kabul, the President and most Americans were spoiling for another fight.

Rather than resume the pursuit of Osama bin Laden, or the difficult, clandestine tasks of counterterrorism in unpleasant foreign places, the President chose a much easier target - an old foe he felt sure he could find in an already defeated and devastated country.

The war, when it happened, was as one-sided as expected. It lasted a mere three weeks and left the mess that most people outside the US had foreseen.

It was a war, the Independent said, "embarked on unilaterally, on the basis of spurious intelligence, to change a regime for which there was no tenable replacement.

"Two years on, its successes are minimal; its failings stand as monuments to US misconceptions about the world and the reach of state power."

Iraqis are now without water and electricity, let alone democracy and self-government. Oil is not flowing. Their economy is worse even than it was under sanctions.

Shiites and Baathists are murdering each other while American occupation forces retreat to the safety of Saddam's palace, whose walls they have had to extend.

The fantasies of a clique in Washington, who imagined Iraq was the key to a solution in Palestine, produced a road map that ran into new Israeli walls in the occupied territories.

The prospect that the United Nations could safely pick up the mess ended with a bomb outside the UN's Baghdad base.

Entirely predictably, the US occupation has handed Arab nationalists and Islamic militants everywhere a rallying cause beyond their wildest hopes. And the leaders the US most wanted remain at large, issuing taped reminders from time to time.

The difference between the first anniversary of September 11 and the second is that in the past year the US has quite deliberately given up the moral high ground. It went after Iraq regardless of cause because it needed a fitting reprisal.

It needed to do something as daring and offensive as to invade an Arab heartland. Bush practically said so in his televised appeal for UN help this week.

"Since America put out the fires of September 11 and mourned our dead and went to war," he said, "history has taken a different turn.

"We have carried the fight to the enemy. We are rolling back the terrorist threat to civilisation, not on the fringes of its influence but at the heart of its power."

A year ago when Bush presented Saddam Hussein as an imminent threat to the world, he at least seemed to believe it and millions of Americans, if few elsewhere, were moved by his conviction.

This week the tough rhetoric, the total ignorance of a foreign point of view, the simplistic slogans of good and evil, had lost some force. Yet the threat he cites in Iraq is probably true now as it wasn't before.

If, heaven forbid, there is another attack of September 11 proportions, there will not be the same sense of innocent incredulity heard worldwide when the Twin Towers fell, and still heard at the anniversary. The ledger is even now.

Does the US feel better for it? Or diminished in a way that only the civilised understand.