Nine days after many American Christians remembered Jesus saying from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” thousands of Americans took to the streets and celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden by chanting, “USA, USA”
The chanting and jubilation bothered me, because, even though I think the killing of bin Laden was necessary, in the end I view it as a failure of the human spirit.
It was a failure of the human spirit partly because our country helped create Osama bin Laden. He got his feet wet in militancy back in the days when he fought against the Soviets with the Mujahedeen – an outfit we backed. We assumed the end justified the means; but the means turned on us and was responsible for the death of 2,996 human beings on 9/11.
It was a failure of the human spirit if vengeance was the motive driving our response. That paradigm of the American character, Archie Bunker, once said, “What’s wrong with revenge? It’s a perfect way of getting even.” As of April 29, 4,452 Americans have died in Iraq and an estimated 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives. That’s what’s wrong.
I think Mahatma Gandhi made more sense than Archie when he said that the trouble with the “eye for an eye” philosophy is that eventually the whole world ends up becoming blind. It’s what happens on the West Side of Chicago. The Four Corner Hustlers kill a Gangster Disciple, so the Gangster Disciples feel they have to retaliate by killing a Four Corner Hustler, and in the meantime little kids get caught in the crossfire.
Right now members of al-Qaeda are plotting how to retaliate against the United States. Personally, I’m glad that bin Laden is gone, but will his death do anything to stop the cycle of violence?
I see it all the time in the divorces of my friends. A helpful approach to ending a marriage, you would think, would be an equitable division of possessions and the creation of a joint parenting arrangement that would be good for the kids. Instead, divorcing couples try to get even. Huge legal bills follow and assets that might have been divided for children are depleted; what’s more, the kids are placed in an emotional crossfire.
It’s a failure of the human spirit, because the net result is less wellbeing for everyone involved. But it can be different. I know divorced couples who used a mediator, or even one lawyer for both parties. They were able to overcome their desire for vengeance by realizing that everyone comes out ahead when revenge is not the primary motivation.
I’ve also seen it happen at a community level. Remember back in 2006 when a guy named Carl Roberts killed five girls in an Amish one-room schoolhouse before killing himself? The Amish responded by forgiving the man and comforting his widow. The widow, Marie Roberts, wrote an open letter in which she said, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”
I’ve seen it happen in a nation. In the movie Invictus we saw how Nelson Mandela chose to unite his country, South Africa, not by punishing the white minority for the brutality of apartheid, but by presenting himself as the number one fan of the Springboks, a white rugby team. Mandela created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which, by its actions, defined justice not as getting even but as the creation of a society in which everyone is better off.
This has less to do with bleeding-heart liberalism and more to do with paying attention to history. Killing bin Laden might have been necessary, and those commandos who killed him deserve our respect, but it’s not a victory for the human spirit. Ultimately revenge isn’t even a good way to get even. We’ve lost more Americans in Iraq than we did on 9/11.
Divorces, murders of children and terrorism happen. Sometimes force is required as a response, but when we talk to our children about how to respond to the pain in life, let’s make it clear that the human spirit can do better than vengeance.
Be sure to visit OakPark.com/ThailandTravels as, Tom Holmes blogs about his recent travels in Thailand.
– Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.