"Is There Another Way?"
Each week I speak to fourth grade students about the need to handle conflicts in an assertive, but not aggressive manner. In six weeks, these children are taught that responding to a conflict with aggression often results in the creation of larger problems. If you are on the playground and a bully pushes you, you have some choices. You can simply take his abuse, you can stand up for yourself in a non-violent manner or you can push him back. What we try to help the children understand is that if you choose to push him back, you will probably end up in a shoving match. Along with being in a fight, you are going to be punished. Not exactly the intended result.
In a sense, Osama bin Laden and his crew are the bullies on the playground. On September 11, these bullies shoved us harder than we had ever been pushed before. And, just like the child on the playground, America has a choice in how to respond. For now, it seems that we have decided to push back. And, it seems, we are already reaping the adverse affects of this choice.
It seems to me that our leaders have refused to consider anything other than a violent response. In the days and weeks following September 11, the American people have been bombarded with images of war. We have been made to believe that our only solution to the problem of terrorism is to bomb the hell out of whoever gets in our way. But is this the course of action we would recommend to our children? For the sake of our future, I hope not.
According to our detractors, we have stuck our necks into areas where we should not have been. We have disrespected the needs of some people in favor of others. We have acted unfairly. We have done as we please with little consideration to how other people will feel about our actions. We have belittled the intelligence and validity of Muslim voices.
Is there any truth to these allegations? This question seems to be the proverbial white elephant. You know, the white elephant that sits in the middle of the room while everyone talks and carries on without ever acknowledging the presence of this big, white elephant. Our leaders have repeatedly avoided addressing this question. Our reluctance to even consider that there may be faults in our foreign policy led Mayor Rudolph Guiliani to turn down $10 million of aid.
In the days and weeks following September 11, President Bush and members of his administration worked tirelessly to assemble an international coalition against terrorism. The administration worked to make sure that the world was ready for what was coming next-a war on terror. Amidst all of this negotiating and planning, never once did we publicly consider reviewing how our foreign policies could have inspired such intense hatred.
What I would hope is that our leaders would begin to understand that there is no loss in considering that our policies in the Middle East have helped to inspire the type of hatred that we witnessed on September 11. Obviously, we have reasons for adopting certain courses of action. But, just as we have our reasons, the terrorists have theirs.
In our current state, Im sure that many people would criticize me for even suggesting that America helped to create an atmosphere within which such things could happen. These people would label me un-American and a traitor. They might even say that I have no compassion for the many people who lost their lives in the attacks. The truth is that I say these things because I have compassion for all of us. I say these things because I dont want to see any more of us die.
This aversion to looking at ourselves is understandable. We have sustained a massive wound. When wounded, it is simply human nature to retaliate. However, as I tell my fourth-graders, our need to retaliate does not mean that we need to respond with violence. Simply stated, we need to consider why we are striking out as we are. I believe that our leaders have chosen to respond aggressively because they believe that it is the fastest way to re-gain the sense of security that we possessed on September 10. At some point, we must wonder, "Is the fastest way the best way?"
It would be very nice to believe that dropping some bombs and expanding our intelligence capabilities would solve all of our problems. However, it seems that our aggressive response is already causing greater conflicts to develop. In the days since bombing began, letter after letter has been found to contain anthrax, anti-American protests are breaking out throughout the Middle East and the world seems to hold its breath-waiting for the next shoe to fall. Is this the world that we want to become accustomed to? Do we want to live in a world where violence reigns supreme?
What we have to remember is that this need for violence originates from the same place-fear. Lets face it; there is not a person in this country who does not now realize how easily everything can be taken away. That is a realization that strikes at the heart of each of us. But when we act out of fear and anger, we simply create more of what we dont want. With surprising speed, nations throughout the world are being overtaken by hatred and unrest. The more violence and destruction we put into the world, the more we are going to receive.
I am certainly not arguing that we simply succumb to the demands of terrorists or that we ignore what is now a painfully obvious problem. Rather, I am suggesting that it would be helpful to consider that there are alternatives to violence. What I really want to know is why the leaders of the most powerful nation in the world refuse to accept a life rule that even 10 year olds can live by.