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After the First Death is a 1991 young-adult novel by Robert Cormier. It involves the terrorist hijacking of a bus full of children.
The main theme of the book is morality. Miro, the teenaged terrorist, believes that his cause is moral and that he is justified in his actions for his homeland (which he has never seen). Miro believes that even violence against children is justified because of the propaganda he was taught, and that he will be respected in the eyes of his fellow terrorists by his actions. His morality is questioned throughout the novel, as is his dedication to his cause.
Another morality question comes up with Mark, the anti-terrorist General who sends his son Ben into the bus to negotiate. Mark deliberately gives Ben incorrect information, allowing Mark to set up a trap that is ultimately successful, although at the cost of lives and Ben's own innocence. Mark believes that his actions, which harmed a few but saved many, were moral and correct, even as his own son was irreparably hurt by his decision. Mark wages an inner war with his own conscience, unable to fully justify his actions, even though he was able to (mostly) thwart the terrorist plot. The following dialogue plays out in Mark's head:
You were serving your country. Serving it in your way just as I was serving it in mine.
Is a country worth that much, Dad? How could I have gone through life knowing what I had done? Knowing that my cowardice had served my country. Where did that leave me, Dad?
I'm sorry, Ben. I was sorry as soon as I told you.
(Cormier, After the First Death, Google Books)
We see that Mark is conflicted, and although he is truly sorry for what he had done, he would do it again to serve his country. Mark sees himself as moral, just as Miro does, but Mark is more willing to sacrifice to win.
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