This Saturday marks the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. We continue to mourn not only the tragic loss of life, but also the loss of innocence.
We had lived for years in a kind of social bubble. We felt safe from the ravages of war and destruction. We felt protected by the world’s strongest military and the best technology available.
Sadly, we have learned what many other nations have learned; that a small group of determined people can inflict great harm on even the strongest of nations.
Our response to the attacks is understandable. There is an inborn reflex in us that wants to strike back when struck. As a people we were filled with a collective sense of outrage that such a senseless act of violence would be carried out against defenseless people. Our outrage and grief have combined into a simmering anger which led us first to Afghanistan and then to Iraq.
We have struck hard at those who were declared to be our enemies. We have bombed and destroyed many more buildings and homes than were destroyed in our own country. And we have killed many more people than were killed on that horrible day. Sadly, the anger persists. Revenge has not yet satisfied our sense of loss.
And then there is the fear. With daily alerts and color-coded warnings, we are constantly reminded that we are not entirely safe. Though we have beefed up security and brought to bear the best of our technology and the courage of our military and law enforcement personnel, we know we are still vulnerable. A small group of determined individuals can still inflict great harm on us no matter how strong or smart we become.
We have reason to wonder if our response to the attacks has helped us or hurt us. Has our devastating presence in Iraq and Afghanistan made us safer or more vulnerable? Have we weakened the enemies of our country or given them new resolve?
President Bush remarked recently in an interview that the war on terror was not winnable. He explained later that what he meant to say is that there would not be a formal surrender and a public capitulation of our enemies as we have seen in past wars. But perhaps the president was expressing a truth more profound than he realized—that the war on terror is not winnable the way we are fighting it. History will be the judge.
In the meantime, the tragedy of 9/11 has created a state of perpetual war. The attacks on our country have raised the role of violence to a new level of significance in our consciousness. We have always believed in violence, and now more than ever.
But in the face of so much loss, and in an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world, maybe we need to ask just how effective violence really is in stemming the tide of evil and restoring our hope. There have been some great souls along the way who have questioned the value of violence—Jesus among them.
Dr. Martin Luther King had some thoughts about violence. He remarked on one occasion: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it…. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
In love, not in hate, we will find healing for our grief and hope for peace.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.