Less than a week ago, disaster struck on a cataclysmic
Never in my lifetime has America experienced such a
shocking event on her own soil.
Before I talk about the future, I want to make one point
clear: This was inexcusable. It was cowardly. It
was pointless. The responsible parties should be brought
to justice. Taking the high road, I think they should be
brought to justice as a lesson to others that this sort of
thing will not be tolerated. On a lower plane, as a
blood-and-flesh human being, I want to see the bastards pay,
and pay big. Whether the justice they receive is civil
or military makes little difference to this atavistic side of
But it only goes so far. I do not wish to see their
wives pay, or their children--even their sons, who may well
grow up to perpetuate this type of violence. No, the
proper retribution should be visited on only those who did it,
not their kin or their homeland.
Now for the point, which I hope you will consider with
I am disturbed by the reports I have been getting about a
rising nationalistic let's-kick-their-butts attitude. I
have received e-mails from the most unlikely people with
pictures of angry eagles and a recycled Americanism editorial.
(This was originally written in 1973--at the end of the Viet
Nam war and as the American Red Cross was in danger of
bankruptcy--and has been dressed up for this occasion.)
My mother wrote and said that " Lots of cars have
flags flying on them and homes with flags flying, you have to
stand in line at the places where they sell flags, our
patriotism is very high."
I'm not there. If I were, I'm sure I would be feeling
a surge of national pride, too. Even from here, I have
experienced a new sense of what it is to be an American. The
expressions of concern and support I have heard, even from
total strangers, have been deeply moving.
But what worries me is this: too much nationalism is a
dangerous thing. It leads us to see others as less than
human. Love your country; I do. Be proud of it; I
am. But that doesn't mean that people born in Adelaide
or St. Petersburg--or Kabul--are any less human than I.
The surest way to make war palatable is to objectify the
other, in fact to make him "other." Show
pictures of men in non-Western wear cleaning their guns in the
desert. Show their women ululating. Make them seem
"foreign" so when the bombs are dropped our sense of
their humanity is disengaged.
Can't we see that this kind of thinking is exactly what
drove the men who did this terrible thing? Had they
thought of buildings full of mothers and fathers, sons and
daughters, they couldn't have done this thing. They had
to see the people in those buildings as other and evil to do
All this regards dealing with an event that is already
past. But let's apply this same principal to the future.
How can we prevent this sort of thing from happening again?
Clearly, "security" is not enough. The
success (a chilling word in this context) of this operation
No, the only way to ensure peace is to ensure "liberty
and justice for all." Not just us. Justice
for all of the world's peoples. Economic justice,
equality of opportunity. Am I talking about cultural
imperialism, exporting the American Way? No. If a
country chooses to be Marxist-Leninist, or a theocracy, let
them. But let's be sure it was indeed a choice.
The much-hated "people of Afghanistan" had
nothing to do with this. Blessedly, in the midst of all
the propaganda I've been sent, I received one voice of sanity
from my friend Kirsten. (You can read it at Salon.com.)
It's an excellent editorial by an Afghan-American journalist,
pointing out that the people of Afghanistan are virtual
prisoners of their government. It is the sort of
situation that the U.S.--via international organizations,
diplomacy, etc.--needs to turn its attention to. The
U.S. needs to use what power she has, along with the world's
other developed countries, to give a hand to the developing
countries, ensuring that the human needs of all people are
We must be in dialogue with oppressive regimes. If
the people represented by these terrorists--most likely a
branch of the Taliban--had felt that they were being listened
to, that fruitful dialogue was in progress, this might not
A corny old song says, "There will never be any peace
until God is seated at the conference table." Well,
I don't know about that exactly, but I'm sure that to the
extent we include all people in the on-going humanization of
the world, peace will prevail. Exclusion breeds
discontent, and discontent leads to tragedy.
One of my favorite teachers, Dr. Huston Smith, wrote back
in the mid-1950's: "When historians look back on
our century, they may remember it most, not for space travel
or the release of nuclear energy, but as the time when the
peoples of the world first came to take one another