What do you think of the following headlines:
"Fundamentalist Christian terrorists from Northern California flew two small planes packed with high explosives into the Black Stone within the Great Mosque at Mecca this morning. The square was packed with thousands of people during the Hajj from all corners of the globe at the time. It is estimated that at least 3,000 people were killed; many more were wounded. It is strongly suspected that the attackers are from a fringe group funded and supported by Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Jerry Falwell claims to have no connection to the terrorists. However, the Saudi International Television Network has confirmed that students trained at Falwell's Liberty Baptist College have been behind the recent attacks against Muslim holy sites, claiming that they are an abomination to the Lord Jesus Christ."
"Defense attorneys in the murder trial of Tom Cruise claim that an African American detective in the LA police department planted evidence in an attempt to frame him for the death of his wife last year. Other African American police knew about the attempt and withheld evidence in the case."
"The USS Vincennes, A United States Navy Aegis class missile cruiser, shot down an Iranian civilian airliner on its way to Dubai, Saudi Arabia, killing 290 people. The ship's commander, Captain Will C. Rogers, claimed his crew mistook the giant commercial Boeing 747 plane, flying in Iranian airspace, for a much smaller, hostile military fighter jet. Addressing the issue of whether the Vincennes was the aggressor in the incident, Admiral William Crowe noted that U.S. rules of engagement 'strongly emphasized that each commanding officer's first responsibility was to the safety of his ship and crew.' He also noted the 'air of terrorism and peril that pervaded the Gulf at that time.' The United States Navy boasts that the Vincennes can accurately detect, classify and track hundreds of potential targets simultaneously in the air, on the surface, and under the sea."
"Soviet Russian forces have bombed the Camp David compound where the U.S. president and his family was vacationing. The president was unharmed, but his infant daughter was killed. The Soviets claim they attacked in self-defense because the United States government has been supporting acts of terrorism by Afghani mujahedin against the Soviet Union's forces in Afghanistan."
All of the stories I just read are fictions except, of course, for the one about the USS Vincennes. All the stories were written to prove a point about maintaining perspective.... or more precisely, always attempting to see a situation from another person's viewpoint.
Amos Brown, the pastor of a Baptist church in San Francisco, was invited to speak at a memorial service held in that city just a week after the September 11 attacks in New York and at the Pentagon. His remarks were illuminating because he repeatedly asked the question "But what did you do, America?". Reverend Brown answered the questions he posed by reminding us of our own transgressions on the world stage.
Today I wish to address some of the questions raised by Reverend Brown. My topic today is the spiritual challenges of asymmetrical warfare. My purpose is to discuss ways we might all find clarity and spiritual sustenance in a world that seems to have gone mad overnight. Hal Lindsey proclaims the end times are upon us. Jerry Falwell blamed the attack on our own moral decay and his belief that "God has turned his back on us". George Bush calls for Osama Bin Laden to be delivered to us dead or alive. From Louisiana, Representative Cooksey, sagely warns us about the dangers of "diaper-heads" in our midst.
While the drumbeats of war ring in our ears, while the United States is committed to massing thousands of our military forces on foreign lands, and while we mourn the loss of other thousands of our fellow citizens at the hands of saboteurs, many of us watch the television and listen to the radio for every nuance of clues about our future. I believe we should also be listening to the very soft voices inside of us that are trying to be heard over the din and confusion of our nation's justifiable outrage.
Travel back with me now to Jimmy Carter's inaugural address on the bright Thursday afternoon of January 20, 1977. I will read for you excerpts from his speech. His words represent one of those soft voices. Carter said: "Ours was the first society openly to define itself in terms of both spirituality and of human liberty. It is that unique self-definition which has given us an exceptional appeal, but it also imposes on us a special obligation, to take on those moral duties which, when assumed, seem invariably to be in our own best interests... Our Nation can be strong abroad only if it is strong at home. And we know that the best way to enhance freedom in other lands is to demonstrate here that our democratic system is worthy of emulation. To be true to ourselves, we must be true to others. We will not behave in foreign places so as to violate our rules and standards here at home, for we know that the trust which our Nation earns is essential to our strength... I would hope that the nations of the world might say that we had built a lasting peace, built not on weapons of war but on international policies which reflect our own most precious values."
Four short years later the rally cry for our nation was "greed is good". Don't you remember that? That also seems to have been the motto for our government's foreign policy, and it ushered in an era that disdainfully characterized Carter's human rights-based foreign policy as naive at best and dangerous at worst. Calling the Soviets an evil empire, we embarked on what some thought was a more "realistic" foreign policy based on our own enlightened self interests and whatever would keep the barrels of oil flowing into our nation. Over the years gunboat diplomacy was replaced by cruise missile diplomacy. Ronald Reagan summed up his view of the world nicely when he said: "Now there was a time when our national security was based on a standing Army here within our own borders and shore batteries of artillery along our coast, and of course a Navy to keep the sea lanes open for the shipping of things necessary to our well being. The world has changed. Today our national security can be threatened in faraway places." And so the drumbeats went on, and so the small voices inside got buried deeper. We gave our military adventures abroad very fine sounding names like "Operation Just Cause", when we invaded Nicaragua, a sovereign nation to remove its president because we didn't like him any more. Remember "Operation Urgent Fury", where we invaded Granada. The mission was really to oust the People's Revolutionary Government because their ties with Cuba were to close for our liking. And oh, by the way, we also had to do it to free some medical students and to restore the lawful government on that island.
We seem genuinely surprised to find out that we have enemies — that there are people in the world who do not like us. We cannot seem to grasp the idea that they might have legitimate reasons for not trusting us, for thinking we're just a tad bit hypocritical, and for believing we're a lot like a bull in a china shop. We export our view of the world with callous disregard as to whether it is offensive to others. For God's sake, it's even offensive to us. Who would have ever thought just a few years ago that "reality TV" would come to us in the form of cruise ships filled with people having affairs for fun, narcissistic castaways on pseudo islands, or a race to see who can get from one place in the world to another by the quickest means? No wonder Osama Bin Laden says that the dollar is our God. It's the only thing that accounts for his lieutenants believing that, as long as money is waved under some noses, no one would question why they would wish to take flying lessons without wanting to know how to take off or land?
Yes, we did drop a bomb on Muammar Gaddafi's tent during an air raid in 1986 because he and his government were supporting terrorists, and we did kill his infant daughter. But is that any reason for him to hate us? Could it possibly be the reason why two Libyan operatives were accused of bombing Pan American flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people? After the USS Vincennes shot down the Iranian Airbus in 1988 Iran accused the United States of a "barbaric massacre" and vowed to "avenge the blood of our martyrs." What makes us think they wouldn't follow through on that threat, especially after we simply offered them settlement money and have never, to this day, apologized for the incident? President Reagan expressed his regrets, and called the incident "a proper defensive action", but we have never apologized. And so the drumbeats go on, and so the small voices inside get buried deeper.
Let us not forget the United States was born in battle. George Washington was the leader of an upstart army of brigands, traitors, and revolutionaries, as far as the British of the 1770s were concerned. A relatively small group of determined Americans brought the world's most powerful military to its knees and changed the course of human history. It is true that one man's terrorist is another's hero. Now a relatively small group of determined fighters can kill thousands of people at a time. One computer programmer can cause billions of dollars of damage to computer networks worldwide in a matter of hours. Since 1977 many sources in the former Soviet Union report that a significant number of their suitcase-sized thermonuclear weapons are missing.
We have entered the era of asymmetrical warfare with a tremendous shock. Part of the shock is that our very large military filled with very expensive hardware may ultimately turn out to be as useful as the British red coat uniforms were at providing excellent targets for American revolutionary sharpshooters. Of course we can pound any country into dust. But, how much good does that capability do us? The irony, of this situation is in its very asymmetry. The fact is that it will take the United States and its allies a huge amount of money, military power, and other resources to neutralize a relatively small group of terrorists. But it takes a relatively small group of terrorists to cause a huge amount of damage to the United States and our allies. Their weapons cost a lot less than ours. Terrorists have proven that they can use our own technology against us in innovative and frighteningly dangerous ways. Another aspect to this new kind of warfare is that it more closely resembles criminal activities than warfare, only on a much wider scale than most of us can envision. We are seeing what amounts to wholesale murder of innocent people — people who in past centuries would be called "noncombatants". Perhaps the best response to terrorism would be with police forces empowered with far greater latitude than we have contemplated in the past. Of course, we then run the risk of trampling on our civil liberties in ways we cannot tolerate. When all is said and done, we simply don't seem to be able to reason with these fanatical people who are willing to die for a cause we do not understand. And so the drumbeats go on, and so the small voices inside get buried deeper.
What do you do with someone who is determined to kill you at all costs? What if someone storms into your house, begins to vandalize it, and threatens to kill you at gun point because he doesn't like the music you're playing? What if, despite your best efforts, nothing you say or do can get you out of such life-threatening situations? Do you turn the other cheek or cry "an eye or an eye" while you attempt to kill him? If you are fighting by more civilized rules than your opponent, are you actually in a fight, or have you already lost? Is the proper response different for individuals than for nations? Many of us have grappled with these questions for weeks now. Perhaps because there are no clear answers a recent poll finds that 70% of United States citizens report that they are living in a heightened state of anxiety. 20% report they are having trouble sleeping. Questions with no answers have that effect. Unlike at other times in the past, when we could dismiss the thoughts, wipe our brows and say "Boy, I'm glad I don't live in that kind of a world", we can no longer do so. We now live in our nightmare scenario. The bad news is that it will only get worse. The good news is we aren't fooling ourselves anymore into a false belief that we can be secure in our fortress America.
As for the answers to the questions I just posed... basically, all these things belong in the realm and domain of the world. Things are the way they are. People will kill and be killed. Death will come to those who deserve it and to those who don't. Some will be saved from destruction by the simple act of staying in bed too late, while others will meet their ends because they decide to go into the lobby of a building at the last, and wrong, second. We simply cannot often change things that will happen to us — but we can change our attitude towards them. It is said that men in combat who fully accept the fact that they will not survive a battle are the most effective soldiers. We, as citizens of the Western world, should understand that we are at the beginning of a protracted and bloody war with enemies that are delighted to fight us. We are at war with people who not only wish to destroy us, but destroy our way of life and all we stand for.
As a nation we must learn to defend ourselves and at the same time try to understand the circumstances of disenfranchisement, bitterness, and hopelessness that created those with which we are engaged. As human beings we must reach out to each other when it seems impossible to do so. As members of a spiritual community we must look inside ourselves for the God who has the power to transform the world. We must understand, on a molecular level, that we are all responsible for everything that happens, and that we are bound inextricably to one another.
Yes, we should pray — and so will our enemies to the same God. Yes we should defend ourselves by launching attacks so devastating and awful they will make the entire world afraid to attack us — but they will, and do so with ever more terrible consequences. We will call our enemies evil — but discount the evil inside of us. We will all dance the maddening dance of war and will bathe in unspeakable and secret places. And when we are exhausted from our mutual struggles that will go on, perhaps for generations, there will come the time for putting aside our weapons. Then it is entirely possible we will embrace each other and be best friends, perhaps united in a common struggle against those pesky outer space aliens.
The world sometimes does not see you as you see yourself. This is called Ethos. After countless wars history provides hindsight enough to understand that many times nations simply needed to be considerate of others to avoid the causes of war. This may come as a shock to some of us, but the United States is not always right. We're not always the good guys. We make big mistakes. The problem is that we rarely make big apologies to accompany those big mistakes. But the drumbeats go on, and so the small voices inside get buried deeper.
The world changed on February 18, 1991. We saw Bernard Shaw with CNN in downtown Baghdad reporting on a furious war that waged in real time on our televisions. The world changed again on September 11, 2001 when we watched airplanes loaded with passengers and jet fuel slam into the World Trade Center and the U.S. Pentagon in the United States. In a gut-wrenching way we should have all gotten the message now that the world we occupy is not very big, but instead it is really a small speck of dust in the universe. And we're on it. And we have nowhere else to go.
We know everything we need to know about how to end wars before they begin. It is a mistake to believe that our governments are going to solve the deep problems the world is encountering. Those problems are not rooted in governments but in the hearts and minds and spirits of people. Young people who do not have jobs, do not have homelands, do not have power over their future, who live in squalor, who have been nourished with a steady diet of violence and hatred all their lives... those are the people we need to care for. That kind of care and compassion does not come from governments, but from each individual person making conscious decisions every day about the kind of world they want to live in. Compassion, love, honesty, patience, and integrity need to be practiced by each individual so that we can infuse our children with those qualities, and thereby create governments that reflect those values and make them the cornerstones of policy, both domestic and foreign.
The world is now too small for human beings to treat it like it is not a schoolyard. We all know the rules which we learned in kindergarten, but have somehow forgotten: treat others as you would have them treat you, ask for forgiveness, say please, walk a mile in someone else's shoes, apologize when you hurt someone, take care of each other, don't push, always share, and listen when someone else is talking.
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!