I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not
rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate
multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot
drive out hate, only love can do that.
~ Martin Luther King Jr.
A friend sent this quote to me in the days following the death of Osama Bin-Laden. While it captured my feelings watching the coverage of spontaneous celebrations throughout the world, I was reluctant to write about the incident not only because the wall-to-wall coverage seem was saturating the airwaves; I knew my feelings on the incident ran counter to popular convention and a blog on the necessity of peace seemed quaint. That all changed as I drove my son and his friend to soccer practice.
During their nine-year-old conversation, his friend emphatically declared, “I am glad we killed Bin-Laden,” and my heart sank. “Why,” I asked? He responded, “because he killed so many people on 9-11.” And off we went on a conversation about responding to violence in kind, how do we change the dynamics of “tit-for-tat” retaliation and where does it all end? Needless to say, the boy was clearly concerned about what might happen to him now that more people were angry about Bin-Laden’s death. Would there be more attacks? What are they planning? When will it happen? All these thoughts racing around in the mind of a young boy, imagine what other children are thinking. And just how are we preparing the next generation to lead and live in our global society?
When Americans look at the challenges of establishing peace in the Middle East they are often struck by the difficultly of shifting the mind-set of people who have been at war with one another for centuries and yet, we are engaging in the exact same behavior and somehow feeling justified because it is US! In every situation we have the opportunity to create growth and forward momentum or we can choose to turn our fears into bravado and engage in the same behavior we seem to despise. The tragedy of 9-11 has gone beyond the physical and emotional devastation of the senseless loss of life and property and its continuing reverberations in the lives of the survivors—it has thrown our national psyche for a loop that is continuing to impact vital decisions about our future course and the young people who will live it.
The United States was founded on the ideals that one could transcend their current conditions and create something better for themselves and their community. Our first leader eschewed the mantle of monarchy and unfettered power to allow the fledging idea of democracy to thrive. Americans believed that simply being born into a certain class should not keep one from achieving success and the ideals of public education supported that desire. We have continuously rewarded those whose lives are dedicated to betterment of others and not simply for self-aggrandizement and indulgence.
Yet as 2001 came to close, Americans had to live with the idea that terrorism can come to our shores and that our invincibility was gone. We had assumed that our military and economic might, our safety and security, were rooted in domination of the resources to annihilate our adversaries and it turned out to be a false assumption. Indeed, a few motivated individuals with sheer intent could, quite literally, change the world.
What has transpired on these shores since 9-11 has been the choice between joining those who wish to live in a limited, hostile and threatening world and those who believe that even in adversity we can choose a new path. For many of our political leaders the former choice has offered immediate reward, for it is easy to play in to the public’s fears and promise them a solution based on “might makes right.” Yet as we watch our economy, our military and so many other societal institutions quake from numerous shocks, perhaps it is time to consider that our real strength was never rooted in our physical prowess, perhaps it was our vision of a different way that had led us all these years.
As one who sees leadership as the dominion of each person committed to living the best of their abilities and put them to good use in the world, I also see this ideal as the cornerstone of what has made America great. It is not the “things” we have built, acquired or bought that have made us the world’s leader, we are great because we were always able to be better than our current circumstances and not swept along with them—that is until now.
Bin-Laden’s death offers us an important opportunity for our next step as a society and world citizen. Are we going to continue to reinforce the idea of an “eye for an eye?” Or are we going to show that we are capable of seeing beyond the stimulus response method of leadership and once again not only articulate but live a better vision of ourselves. Can we redefine ourselves on the world stage as a player who responsibly shares resources and knowledge while focusing on the betterment of all who desire it?
Crisis offers us the opportunity to examine the choices before us. Since 9-11 America has become numb to the implications of sinking into the morass that has encumbered many other civilizations before ours. If we want to create a world free of terrorism, insecurity and fear then it is up to us to lead the way. As George Washington said, “Raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.” Let us hope that we choose a standard worthy of our great nation and the leaders who have come before—let us choose the light and love as our best option for our collective future and leave the death and darkness behind. If we don’t change our course now, today’s nine-year-olds will.
Given human nature, don’t think conflict can be eliminated. I do believe that as individuals, we have the power to reduce the frequency and severity of a given conflict. The military strategist, Sun Tzu remarkd that the “acme of skill is to subdue the enemy without fighting” — pretty good standard to aim for.
We will live with the need to be ever vigilent for all coming years, but part of America’s challenge, as you put “hope others can transcendone could transcend their current conditions and create something better for themselves and their community,” but the reality of this statement, and the need to not seek war or violence outside our borders, also means that those people that come to America seeking a better place must also do exactly as Teddy Roosevelt said, “‘In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American..There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag.. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language.. And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.’ Theodore Roosevelt 1907.
Well, I firmly belive what he said then, and that is just as valid today, if not more so. As a democrat, I don’t want war-it kills and is wasteful, anding no value to America. Yet, with terror, and extreme Islalm, there is a REAL need to strenghten our borders, our visa controls and who comes and goes. The world has changed, and you need to tell your son that too. it’s a bad place and will get worse. If people want to come to Americal legally or illegally for their family, they need to Blend, Mix, and learn to Change to become and speak just like us–follow our cutomers and our language, and not the other way around. That does not permit the wearing of clothes that hides your body and face, and it does not mean you have the right living in America to speak ill of America, and other established religions. I feel American has swayed too far one way to permit many to “transcend” to a better way, if they aren’t willing to give up their past.
Facing the deadly ravages of cancer, the patient can choose pallative care which eases the pain while the individual learns to live with their desease, accepting a slow and ultimately painful death or they can choose to kill every last cancer cell in their body so they will be able to resume a normal long and healthy life. Osama Bin Laden was one of many cnacer cells requiring elimination from the human body. I celebrate his death with the same joy I felt upon learning of my mother’s victory over lymphoma and look forward to the day the final cancer cell infecting humanity with his brand of poison has been eliminated. The “new” path so many advocate is in fact a well worn trail blazed by failed, forgotten cultures who were wunwilling to face their internal or external enemies and fight for their own survival. Some cultures go down fighting and are at least remembered by their successors with some degree of admiration. The ones who meekly acquiese in their own destruction are quickly forgotten, and deservedly so.
The Air Force’s mission used to be “Destroy the enemy’s will to fight”.
All in American have the right to freedom of speech, no matter how repugnant. Only that which is offensive, needs to be protected. Even the Klan is allowed to march down Pennsylvania Ave if they have a permit.
I can’t imagine that too many immigrate to America without wanting to assimiliate. Why else would you leave hearth and home? I’ve traveled the world for decades and most everyone I’ve met “loves America” and would rather have our freedoms and opportunities.
I don’t know what they teach in world history these days, but it seems to me that we have an opportunity to educate our children about different parts of the world – South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia (Central, South and East)…oh, and Europe. And I’m not talking about glossing over with “culture” lessons…solid history of different parts of the globe and especially in those places where we are fighting battles…humanize the subjects so that not all people in Afghanistan or Iraq are seen as “enemy.” That would be one big step…of course, that would likely mean re-educating our teachers (and parents – myself included), too.
I appreciate MLK’s comments but they don’t apply here, IMO.
I reject the theory that bringing a mass murderer to justice was driven by “hate”; while millions certainly did hate OBL, he was killed because he was evil and was responsible for the deaths of thousands. His death eliminated a man who had exponentially spread hate throughout the world. OBL sank the world into a very deep and dark night, and his absence has brightened it substantially.
@Peter – Hate to say it, but which is worse: chemo or the cancer? Both harm the body. One is designed to attack the other…but we’re forced to accept a lesser of two evils here, right? Is there really an end to the cycle of violence that uses violence as its means?
Up to this point in modern society our way of “fighting” anything is to “fight” back. With this approach, no matter what happens we are still involved in a fight. If we truly want to end this cycle we must look to a different approach that allows us to move to a new level of problem solving . . . as Einstein says, “problems need to be solved at a different level of thinking than what created the problem.” The only way to end war is to stop waging it and the only way to cure “dis-ease” is to allow the body to be healthy–its natural state.
@Andrew – the extreme violence used to defeat the Germans and Japanese seemed to have ended their cycles of violence for 7 decades and into the foreseeable future!
@Kathleen – Ironically, Einstein was the catalyst for solving the problem of war with a different level of thinking that involved splitting atoms. I appreciate your optimism, but it takes two rational parties to engage in a productive dialogue; terrorists don’t want to hear what we have to say, they want to see our heads rolling across the floor. The optimistic but ill fated diplomacy of well intentioned politicians like Neville Chamberlain resulted in death and misery for tens of millions around the world in WWII, as people like Adolph Hitler (and Bin Laden) are not interested in peace, but fanatically attempting to destroy their enemies or die trying.
@Kathleen – Could not agree more that we need to try a different approach to break the cycle.
I’ve spent most of my adult career studying and testing alternatives — some lessons learned posted at:
One of the examples included is applying the approach to a controversial issue such as abortion. Interesting experience. People with strong convictions would rather maintain the righteousness of their respective position than work with their opposition to find solutions that would reduce and/or eliminate the problem.
Doing the same thing over and over again that leads to the same result poses a moral question. Are you not contributing to the problem if your position is not leading to eliminating and/or reducing the problem?
@ Andrew — Yes, chemo is better than cancer when accepting cancer means to accept death. I will concede that some patients are better off accepting the inevitable. The same may be true for cultures facing an overwheling enemy determined to destroy them, but I doubt it.
@Kathleen – Yes, it takes two to fight; but it only takes one to brutally maim and kill a victim unwilling to defend themselves. We could choose more pacifist responses to terrorism but I have yet to see any evidence they would be very effective. Even Ghandi made very clear to the British exactly what alternative they faced if they did not accede to his pacifist demands when he led severl hundred thousand people to the Vice Roy’s palace and suggested they come out to talk because “it would be uncomfortable if we come in”.
I strongly beleive we should adhere to few simple principles in determining when and how to apply deadly force, none of which have been applied in U.S. policy over the past half century.
1. Stay out of other people’s conflicts. Our nation gained little or nothing in terms of increased security or anything else from the Korean or Vietnam wars, the Kosovo intervention, the Somalian intervention, the Libyan intervention etc. When two or more groups of fanatics are determined to kill each other, the worst place to be is in the middle.
2. Never fire the first shot. Premptive wars, including the 2nd Iraq war, are immoral and force us to assume the role of aggressor for no good purpose.
3. When attacked with deadly force — identify and destroy the enemy quickly, completely and without mercy or regret. Our biggest mistake with Bin laden was not following him out of Tora Bora in 2001. The Pakistanis would not have hated us any more than they do now and we could have brought this conflict to an end more quickly and with far less bloodshed on all sides.
Now that Bin Laden is dead, we should get the heck out of the middle east, wait to see if any of his, or any other, terrorists want to continue the fight and either live our lives in peace or apply the third principal as needed.
@Peter – Re: your point #2. There is nothing immoral about toppling a brutal dictatorship. The US invaded Iraq because Hussein refused to allow UN weapons inspectors in the country, a provision that he agreed to per the terms of his surrender in the 1st Gulf War. What should have been the consequences of this refusal?
I have thought a great deal about this discussion (and am so impressed by the engaged community at Govloop) and it is interesting how quickly we all fall back into the patterns of pushing back and forth against each others’ views. How do we get beyond the struggle . . . there are merits in all points, it was an untenable situation without systems to support a good conclusion for anyone. How can we begin to look at desire to be safe, secure and free to live in peace in our communities from everyone’s perspective and can we create societies that meet that need for everyone simultaneously. If we can envision the answer, we can create it.