The Thrill of
Last Tuesday evening, as my family and I were trying to make sense of the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center, I caught a climpse of a city being bombed on tv. It was Kabul, Afganistan, and the commentator did not know who was bombing it.
I have to say that, for a long moment, I felt a rising sense of revenge and satisfaction thinking that the United States had sent those bombs. As it turned out, it was the work of Afgan rebels.
As I think back on my surge of happiness at the bombings, I see that it was an emotional response, not a reasoned one. It was a visceral response to a violation of immense scope.
But wisdom from the past suggests that an emotional response, especially out of anger and furstration, is seldom the best way to proceed. Socrates cautioned his students that emotions clouded our judgment and left us mistaking folly for wisdom. Montaigne felt that expressions of anger denoted lack of education and self-control. He felt that anger begat cruelty and torture, which were the worst actions of mankind.
In the days that followed in school, I heard some students express their emotions in hateful ways, making sweeping derogatory statements about the followers of Islam and urging revenge and "an eye for an eye."
The more I thought about terrorism, the less it seemed that full-scale retribution and carnage is what will end it. Our televisions are filled with retired colonels and generals talking about huge increases in the defense budget, about loosening the reins on overseas and domestic spying, and about making America an armed camp. I don’t hear anyone cautioning us to think this thing through. Instead, I hear callers questioning their neighbor’s patriotism because they have not displayed the flag.
It seems to me we are giving ourselves over to the thing we are trying to stop. The CIA was reined in because it was supporting right wing terrorists in the name of American interests. Surely we don’t have to go back to financing foreign murderers and thugs to make American democracy secure.
Maybe we should think about why we are about to commit American forces in a difficult foreign land for a protracted guerilla war. The world is outraged; even Syria and Iran feel Afganistan has gone too far. Maybe we should let the world help us isolate and defang these terrorists. We should get a measure of revenge, but we must realize that more carnage will feel good only for a short while. Once we are sated with Afgani blood, we may find, like an angry child after a temper tantrum, that we have destroyed more than the enemy.