My September 12 Mentality, II

At Mass yesterday the Gospel reading was Jesus’ admonition to forgive, Mt:18:21-35. The priest gave a solid enough homily on this point, with some reference to the attacks of four years ago. And he is right to say we should forgive the people who hate us and who attacked us. That does not mean, and he did not suggest, that we should not defend ourselves, or carry the war to them. We sang America as our recessional, yet another indication that the date is now solemnized as an annual patriotic memorial.

Forgiveness does not mean being naïve. It does not mean failing to recognize evil when you see it. It does mean not repaying evil with evil, but responding to evil with justice, not vengeance or hatred. President Bush is right to emphasize that we will bring our enemies to justice, or justice to them. We must prosecute our wars without rancor, without the madness that grips our enemies. Don’t take this from me, an armchair warrior, but from the real thing.

In his book On Combat Lt. Col. Dave Grossman quotes one of the Delta Force men who was engaged in the “Black Hawk Down” debacle in Somalia:

Don’t dehumanize those who disagree with us, or even hate us. Filling ourselves with hate is neither necessary to combat those who hate, nor is it productive. The professional soldier is one who is cold, dispassionate and regretful in his duty when forced to kill. … The steady trigger finger kills a lot more enemy than one that trembles with hatred. Take pride in the fact that we live in a country where we should treat Americans from all clans as Americans first and foremost; don’t stoop to the level of hating those who hate us. …

The practical tasks of destroying the people who want to destroy America is not advanced by hating them. Cool heads bring victory; steady aim puts the bullet on the mark. The moral task of transcending the people who would destroy America is not advanced by hating them, either. Our active enemies have made hating us the core of what they do and what they are. We need not and should not mirror-image this stupidity. We have much more to offer, much more to do, and fighting them does not define us. It is one distasteful task amidst many positive activities. They are simply in the way.

Removing the threat to America is a hard and dangerous and bloody task. We have gratitude and respect for those who bear the heaviest burden of doing that job — the kind of people Michael Yon writes about, for one example. As John Keegan wrote:

War is repugnant to the people of the United States; yet it is war that has made their nation and it is through their power to wage war that they dominate the world. Americans are proficient at war in the same way that they are proficient at work. It is a task, sometimes a duty. … Left to themselves, Americans build, cultivate, bridge, dam, canalize, invent, teach, manufacture, think, write, lock themselves in struggle with the eternal challenges that man has chosen to confront, and with an intensity not known elsewhere on the globe. Bidden to make war their work, American shoulder the burden with intimidating purpose. There is, as I have said, an American mystery, the nature of which I only begin to perceive. If I were obliged to define it, I would say it is the ethos – masculine, pervasive, unrelenting – of work as an end in itself. War is a form of work, and America makes war, however reluctantly, however unwillingly, in a particularly workmanlike way. I do not love war: but I love America.

I had this last year on 9/12, emphasizing that we should forget nothing, but that we should get on with it. I still think that.

God bless America.

2 thoughts on “My September 12 Mentality, II”

  1. Thank you, Lex.
    Henry Adams ends his chapter on “Chaos” describing the turn of the century American as working to excess, caring not for money nor power but the task. Adams is both perceptive and irritating. He seemed to see where the next hundred years would go but he didn’t seem to see why. And Grossman puts much in context (I wish I could have thought this out more clearly–have read this–when someone in my Sunday School class said Lincoln must be a hypocrite to believe in man’s divinity and to fight the Civil War.)

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