by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
November 11, 2001
OF GOD AND MAN AT WAR
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- God Bless America.
We've heard that sentiment expressed everywhere since Sept. 11, as many Americans have embraced patriotism and faith with a fervor not seen since World War II. But as someone who puts more belief in reason and rationality than in religion and flag-waving, I can't help but wonder about what we are asking God to bless.
Is God smiling upon America as we bomb Afghanistan? Is He pleased that more than seven million Afghans face starvation and death this winter due to the ongoing wars there? I doubt it, no more than He was pleased at the slaughter of almost 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania by 19 men who thought they were acting in accord with His will.
I don't have a direct link to the almighty, but it's a safe bet that conservative commentator Ann Coulter's now infamous statement that the proper U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attacks is to "invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" would not get approval from God.
But in a time of turmoil, people crave simple answers to complicated things. There are too many folks who would agree with Coulter,and find the Biblical proof to do so. But then again, Coulter's course of action already happened a thousand years ago.
The Muslim world still remembers "The Crusades" as if they happened yesterday. Americans are being told that we need to speak "with one voice." But when that one voice is loud and harsh and contrary to reason, it is necessary to open another dialogue.
That dialogue begins with what patriotism is about. I love this country because of its values of freedom, tolerance and diversity. They arenot always honored or upheld, but they are the American values that I hold most dear. Enlistees don't pledge allegiance to the flag when they enter the armed forces. They take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and protect it from all enemies foreign and domestic. The flag is only a symbol representing our nation. Our Constitution, and the ideals it contains - they are our nation.
And last I checked, the Constitution still guarantees freedom of speech and thought and prohibits the majority from imposing its version of faith on others. The state can't compel me to be a Christian.
Then there is the next part of the dialogue: how must we deal withour enemies? Dropping bombs on Afghanistan doesn't appear to be thelong-term answer. Nor does a protracted ground war that could engulf the rest of Central Asia. What then is the answer?
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the world faced a choice: "Non-violence or nonexistence." But non-violence is not about an absence of conflict; that is impossible as long as human beings roam the earth. It is about meeting conflict with an unshakable commitment to truth, compassion and non-cooperation with evil.
Mohandas Gandhi, who came to define nonviolence in the struggle against British colonial rule in India, was a believer in the power of truth to change the world.
"Gandhi's lifelong strategy was to bring about moments of epiphany when wide populations might come to decisive political and moral recognitions," wrote James Carroll last month in The Boston Globe. "Acts of resistance that lay bare the real character of evil, Gandhi taught, will lead to a broad rejection of that evil."
And if you think non-violence is a wimpy course of action, Carroll pointed out the powerful movements in the 20th Century where nonviolencewas successfully employed - from Rev. King and the civil rights movement in the U.S.; to Lech Walesa and Solidarity in Poland; to Corazon Aquino's "people power" revolution in the Philippines.
"The history of the movements named above suggests that this is anything but the platitudinous meekness derided by those who prefer war," wrote Carroll.
What was done on Sept. 11 - acts that killed nearly 5,000 civilians - was evil. But the U.S. response to that evil has been to kill hundreds of Afghan civilians and threaten the lives of thousands more through indiscriminate bombing. Evil cannot be redeemed by more acts of evil. Working for peace and justice may not fit into the narrowdefinition of patriotism and faith that conservatives may have. But theyare the only way that this planet will survive. The war ahead isn't goingto be a quick walkover, like the Persian Gulf War. The combination ofunsavory allies, centuries-old hatreds and the ever-present specter of nuclear holocaust make this fight seem like the curtain-raiser on World War III.
Nonviolence is too much to expect right now from a nation that has used military force far too often in far too many places for far too many dubious reasons over the past half-century. But, as a nation, we should pursue a course of action that's reasonable in scope and proportional in its use of force. We haven't done so as yet, but it's not too late to start. The alternative, World War III, is far too horrible to contemplate. It is an act of both patriotism and faith to speak out against this nation's headlong rush into yet another ill-advised war.
I don't believe God will bless America if we embark on the wider war that the hawks in President Bush's cabinet are agitating for. Nor will God be on the side on Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. God gets drawn into war too often, and over the centuries, we've seen the tragic results that come from the "my God's better than your God" philosophy. Humans wage war, and God has nothing to do with it. To believe otherwise is a perversion of faith.
And to stay silent when your country is doing something horrific is a perversion of patriotism.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).