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A Time to Turn Away from Violence


By Sally McMillan

As we work through our shock and grief over the bombings at the Boston Marathon, as we express our admiration for the courageous response of the people of Boston to this tragedy, as we watch the ongoing tv broadcasts about the manhunt, as we praise the work of police, FBI, firefighters, and other first responders to these events, let’s also take a little time to reflect on the “why” as well as on the “who” and the “who else” of what happened.

This is an important question.  President Obama  raised it when he said, “ Why would two young men who were raised in the United States and went to school here do this kind of thing?”  We could also ask, “What have they not been learning here in the United States that would have deterred  them from committing this action?”  

We live today in a violent world.  Through  today’s advances and technology the U.S.  is no longer separated  from what is happening in other parts of the world.  Before the world became so small we felt secure between our two oceans and with friendly neighbors on both borders.  We saw ourselves as exceptional, unique, righteous, and the rest of the world looked up to us. We were loved by everyone.  Americans were admired and welcomed when they visited other countries. People wanted to come here and live the American dream, the dream of opportunity, of prosperity, and of peace. We were a leader and role model for the world.

Technology and 9/11 changed all that.  We were shocked by the attack on the Twin Towers, and the world was shocked with us.  Why did some people hate us? How would this great country react to such an appalling atrocity?    We were now vulnerable, just like the rest of mankind.

The American people responded with sorrow, with courage, and with generosity to the people and the places directly hit by the tragedy.  The U.S. government reacted at first with shock, and then with plans for retaliation.  There was a lot of fear, not knowing what might come next.  The first obligation was to the security of this country and its people.  We all love our country and appreciate concern for our security.

Unfortunately, something was missing: an examination of the “why.”  Why did these people attack us?   We were told glibly that it was because they hate our freedom. They hate our lifestyle, they hate our prosperity and our culture.  They are evil and we must rid the world of evil terrorists. 

So began the “war on terror.”  Our president was authorized to go after them wherever they might be. We attacked Afghanistan; w e attacked Iraq.  Shortly, we discovered some of them in Pakistan so we attacked them there.  Then in Somalia, in Yemen, and lately in Mali.  We can go after them wherever they are. 

Of course our methods have changed.  We now have drones, remote-control  killers  that don’t  endanger any of us.  Our intelligence community can identify the militants for us.  This makes it alright.  War is now made easy and endless.  Violence is an acceptable response…for us.   So it has been a violent start to the 21st century. 

How has this affected the young people who have grown up in this environment?   Fortunately, many young people have learned …from family, church, or other influences  that all people are important despite differences in nationality, ethnicity, and religion, that we should  try to understand others and the reasons for their  actions, that violence begets violence, 

Unfortunately, conflicting   influences are strong,  especially  since we are a diverse nation and ties exist that can challenge this outlook.  The example  that young people see around them may challenge this outlook.  The words they hear from leaders and media can challenge it.  Their inexperience and passion may challenge it. 

There is reason for anger.  We were  challenged  as individuals, as a society, and as a nation in how to respond.  A choice was made, and we are still seeing the consequences. 

The time is here when we must examine our thinking to discover what kind of a world we and others are creating by the choice of  violence.  Obviously, a change in direction is needed.   The time is here to practice the gospel of non-violence  and turn our swords into plowshares. We must seek the “why,” and work to end the injustice and the inequality and the anger that  lead to  a 9/11 or a Boston Marathon massacre.  Our power must reside in our example.  

This is not  naivite or idealism.    It’s the only way to give our children the hope and the means for a peaceful world.

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