A Measured Response
Sept 17, 2001
I spent a lot of time this weekend outside of my home. My wife and I attended funeral services for a dear friend on Saturday (her death, though tragic, was not connected with last week's terrorist attacks). We also went to the LA County fair this weekend, in an attempt to get our minds off of our national and personal tragedies, and ran numerous errands at various stores around the city, trying as much as possible to return to normalcy.
As we walked amongst crowds of people all weekend, I cannot begin to count the number of times I heard people declaring, at the top of their lungs, that we should bomb the bejeezus out of Afghanistan and other Arabic countries. "Nuke 'em," "turn it into a sea of glass," "bomb them back to the stone age." some of these comments came from friends, and once even from a dear friend -- a playwright whom I admire and look to as a mentor. I'd been hearing these same comments from my co-workers all week and, as the weekend wore on, I began to feel sick. Where did this bloodthirstiness come from? How did the people around me, people I love and respect, become so full of hate?
Make no mistake, I am stunned, saddened and furious over the attacks of last Tuesday. I am lucky in that none of my friends or relatives were killed in the four crashes. But I am outraged at the attack against my country, and, even more, at the attack against the human race. These attacks were more than a declaration of war against the US, they were a boldfaced rejection of the idea that human life is important, that each person has a purpose and the right to do his or her work on this earth. I find it inconceivable that anyone should undertake such a slaughter in the name of God (I'm certain many will write about that -- I'll leave it alone), and even more inconceivable that any man or woman could look at the faces around him, could picture the faces of teeming thousands simply going about their work, and choose to kill them all. I think that most all of my friends, co-workers and, indeed, the people in those throngs that I walked through this weekend would feel the same way.
Which is why I am baffled by those comments I spoke of. As the smell of death blows through New York City and Washington DC, as men and dogs risk their lives to pull bodies and body parts from the smoldering wreckage of some of our greatest engineering marvels, I am at a loss to understand how anyone could call for more violence. Looking at the devastation caused by this attack on us, really looking at it as we have for the past week, can anyone say they honestly would like to see more of it? Do we want to see more cities devastated, more countries brought to their knees, more pieces of human bodies blown through busy streets, more rescue workers crushed by falling buildings while trying to do nothing more than save the fallen? Even if all this happens in some other country, in someone else's back yard?
If we want to show the world that we intend to right the wrongs of the past week, that we intend to protect and reserve the freedoms and rights that we see as being part of the American way of life, we must do so with deliberation, awareness, and restraint. If indeed Osama Bin Laden is the orchestrator of this attack, he should be tried and brought to justice in just the same way as all other war criminals and creators of such atrocities are brought to justice. If we want to truly protect the things that America stands for -- human rights and due process among them -- we need to extend the initiators of these attacks those same rights and courtesies. If we retaliate with missiles, bombs, tanks and planes; if we kill tens or hundreds or thousands of innocents in our quest for vengeance, then our attackers will have won their war. Our attackers will have destroyed our sense of who we are and what we stand for, and will have reduced us to their level, which is exactly what they want. If we want to set an example for the world, we will defend ourselves with reason and righteous indignation. Certainly, in all of this, there are those who deserve death, and worse, for what has been done. But if we can rise above the simple, primitive joy of killing our enemies, we will be all the more the victors in this war.
The slaughter of countless thousands more innocents will accomplish nothing, or next to it, especially considering the loose organization of our new enemies. Only by rising above their apparent disdain for human life, by executing justice, with support of our allies, in a reasoned manner and only against those who are clearly guilty, as is the American way, can we hope to preserve the rights and ideals that Americans and nearly all the Western World hold dear.
I think that should be our goal. Let us not turn Afghanistan into a "sea of glass." Let us instead show those who attacked us, and other would-be terrorists, that the American spirit is grand and righteous, and that we love human life as much as we despise our enemies. Let us take our example from Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., not from the Crusades or our military textbooks. Our losses were horrible, and our hearts must go out to everyone who lost a loved one, and we must do what we can to help them. Last week's battle, humanity clearly lost. But, if we are careful, certainly humanity can win the war.