We have seen the enemy and it is us

November 16, 2014

we-have-seen-the-enemyWe have seen the enemy and it is us.

We are a nation of excess. We like things big and bold and in your face.

Our restaurants don’t just serve dinner, they serve so much dinner it could feed two or three people.

We don’t just run a flag up the pole, we take it off the pole and wave it around in a crowd in big gestures.

We don’t just buy a truck, we buy a gigantic, black GMC truck that looks like a tank and we drive it aggressively.

We don’t build a quiet meditative monument, we build a gigantic, can-not-miss-it, behemoth of a monument, as if the scale represents the thought.

And that brings me to something I don’t like to write about but feel strongly about: September 11.  I don’t like to write about it because my views are a little different from the norm. And yet, I’ve thought so much about it and feel so strongly that I want to address it.  So let’s begin.

Like everyone else, that day is branded into my soul.  How could I forget?  Like everyone else,  I remember all too well. But I don’t watch or read much about it any more. It just seems too much. I don’t need to continue to beat into my brain something I already feel so deeply in my heart.  An exception was several documentaries produced by National Geographic I viewed recently, and once again I was heartbroken at the loss. Looking in the faces of those so-brave firefighters as they climbed floor after floor in a doomed effort to save people–to do their job–I shook my  head, then blessed them all.  I watched sadly as families reported that their loved ones were told by Security to stay put and wait for help–and then shared the horror as the families watched their loved ones die in real time when the buildings collapsed.  Seeking the right word for that awful day, not even heartbreaking goes far enough.

The hunt for Osama bin Laden took a very long time, but then he was found and killed.  I heard Pres. Obama claim that this represented the best of what American can do. I watched Americans celebrate the death of this murderer by gathering together and dancing in the streets, waving American flags,  grinning widely, making happy faces, laughing and celebrating.

Celebrating death.



That, too, was painful.  Because when I turned off the sound, the video looked exactly like the celebrations that go on among some Islamic groups when the towers came down.  And when ISIS beheads men.  The celebrations that occur among radical Muslims when any attacks on the West or Westerners were successful. Those people looked like animals.

And we looked like animals. The same.

killing-is-wrongMy deeply-held belief is that it is wrong to kill.  For anyone to kill–not the state, not citizens, not soldiers. It is my belief that only the Divine can take a life.

But we are a vengeful world. Vindictive.

We misunderstand “an eye for an eye.” It was never meant to be taken literally. It was a figurative command that meant secular justice was to be equitable–not excessively harsh nor excessively lenient.  It was never meant to be literal.

But how many people looked on those celebrations with the same turning of the stomach that I did? How many saw that our actions in celebrating were just as barbaric as those of the terrorists who celebrated their attack on the West?

“But we didn’t kill their people.” Except in war, of course.

It’s true, we didn’t. But that doesn’t matter, not to me.  It is barbaric to celebrate killing of any kind.

“But bin Laden masterminded Sept. 11 and he deserved to die.”

It’s true. He did plan it.  But that doesn’t matter to me. No death is more deserving than another. All killing is wrong.

At my very core I know this to be true.

It is time that we stopped lashing out in retribution and found another way. Perhaps bin Laden could not have been taken alive, but people had a choice in their response. And looking just like the victorious enemy just doesn’t seem like a useful response.

I am sad to say that as a society, we are not a thoughtful people. We are reactive. We seek simple solutions. And we are nothing if not vindictive.  And that emotion in our hands is bigger than life, just like just about everything in America.

A few years ago I visited the 9/11 Memorial.  The scale was gigantic.  I stood in front of the deep fountains and traced the names of the dead. I thought about what they’d gone through and said a prayer.

And yet, the place left me cold.  I had to work hard in my head and heart to be moved. It didn’t hit me like, say the Oklahoma monument had. A more simple and thoughtful and moving memorial.



Why didn’t they use the footprint of the World Trade Center to make a huge, multi-faith meditation garden? I wondered.  A place where we could sit and reflect and pray?  A place that took an ugly event and transformed it into a thing of peace, reflection and beauty?

It’s not our way to think quiet and peaceful. We think big and hit-you-in-the-face. It’s the American way.

But there is much about 9/11 that requires quiet reflection and more thought than many give it.

It is a complex world and I don’t pretend to have any answers. But what I do know with certainty is that killing of any kind is wrong and celebrating death of anyone makes us as barbaric as terrorists.



25 comments on “We have seen the enemy and it is us
  1. I remember thinking the same thing, Carol. But it isn’t just the American’s–vindictiveness is world wide–( remember Germany, Japan; look at So. Korean) since you went out on a limb here, I will too–it’s seems to me a primarily male trait. However, if we ever came under attack, I would be glad to have our ranks at the ready. It’s a double edged sword and food for thought. Good post.

  2. Toni McCloe says:

    During the weeks that followed 9/11, I wrote in my journal that if I could I would tear Bin Laden apart with my bare hands. When I read that back later, I was shocked and sickened. Like you I have always believed that no killing is justified.

    I don’t remember seeing reports of people dancing in the streets when Bin Laden was killed, but I do remember seeing people dancing in the streets when I was four and World War II ended.

    What I saw as a child was that within minutes, the celebration turned into fighting, neighbor against neighbor, one nationality against another as the Hitler dummy they had hung in effigy looked down laughing. Have we learned nothing?

  3. I respect your opinion and your words, Carol. I, too, detest violence in all forms, and will never watch a movie or TV show with it.

    But September 11 was more personal for me, because living in close proximity to Manhattan made it so. I rounded my son up that day from school because I believed we were being attacked. I worried about my brother and others who were in NYC that day. And I mourn all of the people in my state (the most of any area) that we lost that day.

    I cannot or will not detach from it, because, like the Holocaust where I lost a lot of my family, violence did happen. And to turn my back would be wrong and inappropriate to those we lost. Those brave souls deserve a monument, however the families see fit, to keep their memory alive. They were left behind, and they are the ones I now pray for.

    I’ve been to Yad Vashem in Israel (memorial for the Holocaust) the memorials in Washington DC and some in Europe. However those left behind choose to erect a memorial is their choice. And I pray by their side.

    Thanks for writing this post. It is an important one. As I said, respect your feelings on this matter.

  4. P.S. I forgot to add that I think the celebrations are unconscionable. I remember one Dunkin Donuts nearby in NJ – which had a few Muslims working at – celebrated when they saw the towers falling. Can you imagine? Yes, people celebrate death. This is a complex issue because there are plenty of Americans who love war (John McCain comes to mind) and it sends shivers down my spine….

  5. Karen says:

    I’m with you on all counts, Carol. But as a Canadian, it’s a lot safer for me to articulate this than for you. Beautifully done.

  6. Laura Kennedy says:

    I am with you all the way on this. Thanks so much for expressing it so well.

  7. Diane says:

    You said everything when you said we are not a thoughtful people. We are a reactive people. Sadly true.
    And I felt the same sinking heart when I saw those people dancing in the streets after the execution of bin Laden as I felt when I saw the dancing during 9/11. Finding out later that the videos of the 9/11 dancing had been shot at an entirely different time didn’t help much.

  8. Yes, and so incredibly sad that we even have to have this conversation. 9/11 changed all of our lives forever. I’m still shocked that this could happen in the U.S.

  9. Laurel Regan says:

    Carol, you put so many of my thoughts into words with this post, and so very, very well. I am with you all the way on this. Makes me think of discussions I’ve had with people who claim to be “pro-life” and yet support the death penalty. I just don’t get the logic… people can be baffling. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

  10. Was I glad that Bin Laden was removed from ever being able to perform acts of evil again? Yes. Because I do believe that death was the only thing that would keep him from it. There was no doubt that he masterminded the attacks, no doubt that he did it in cold blood. Did I celebrate? No. I wish there had been some way to quietly take him out and not sound a fanfare.

    Where I draw the line is capital punishment. There are just too many cases of men languishing in prison for decades — or being executed — and then exculpatory evidence comes to light and it turns out they didn’t do the crimes they’re being punished for. How many is too many? One. It’s a cliché, but I believe it all the same: I’d rather a thousand killers go free than one innocent man lose his life because of the problems in our judicial system.

    I haven’t always believed this. Regretfully, I’ve been one of those people who said, “Well, he may not be guilty of that crime, but he’s guilty of something, or he wouldn’t be there.” Until someone I know was accused of a heinous crime he didn’t commit, the judge believed the “eyewitness” testimony of two people who hated him and wanted him to suffer, and he spent seven years in prison for something he didn’t do. Opened my eyes right up.

  11. I certainly don’t believe a killing should be celebrated. I hate the thought that there is an enemy. But I do believe that what is going on in the Middle East — with ISIS and Syria now will have to be addressed by our military. Do I like thinking that? Of course not. I abhor it. But it is my belief that ISIS will not rest until Americans die on our own soil.

  12. Ruth Curran says:

    I agree on so many levels. Celebrate kindness. Celebrate through reflection. Reward peaceful understanding…. I wish we, as a nation, could just stinking breathe…..

  13. Unfortunately, I think death is the only way to stop terrorists but I totally agree that the killing of another person should never be celebrated.

  14. You packed a lot in to this one Carol and I agree with a number of things you wrote. The idea that anyone would celebrate another’s death is (as another commenter wrote) unconscionable.

    After Sandy Hook I wrote a piece called “Missing.” Something about your post today made me go re-read it and it is in the spirit of trying to add to the conversation that I share an excerpt from that post:

    “Why is it I feel as if staring out from our societal reflection is what we have cultivated; a society that has become desensitized to violence and reluctant to take steps that could help facilitate measurable change?

    Lately I have been machinating over what’s missing in the seemingly endless conversations:

    Missing is civility. Missing is human decency. Missing is manhood.

    How do we find the strength and resolve to face ourselves and each other? Civil discourse perhaps has never been more important. Every key stoke that takes us away from basic human grace contributes to a future lacking empathy. Every film, advertisement and story where people, regardless of gender, are objectified, serves to dehumanize and desensitize us and the more we consume it? The more whittled down our hearts and minds become. As if somehow we lack responsibility in our own undoing.”

    What I am getting at is until the collective “we” has the guts to actually get to systemic issues that feed violence I feel as if we will be swimming in these emotions. Sadly I am not confident we will ever.

    My personal solution is to cleave to those who raise their voices. To those who take the time to express, as you have here, when what “we” have done feels incongruent to what may be more appropriate. Whether there is agreement is not the point, it is the risk associated with seeking answers that I celebrate.

    As far as what “should” have happened after 9/11? I’m not sure there could ever be a solution that would feel appropriate to all people.

    I celebrate the reflection pools and gardens that surround them. In contrast to your feelings of coldness, I felt very moved by them.

    Like you, I do not pretend to have the answers. So I focus as best I can on what I can do, push myself and my children to use our minds and voices. To dig deep into what we tolerate and ask more of ourselves. To keep our hearts open so we don’t miss an opportunity to listen and learn. Last, to offer and extend love into the world, God knows, it needs it…

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