Even my post title is loaded.
By referring to the situation as “the death of,” I cast a judgment. I didn’t call it “the murder of” or the “slaughter of” or the “unfortunate demise of.” (I made the mistake last night of clicking a link containing an image of his body on a foreign website. What word to use?) I had to call it something, just to get my thoughts out. Blog posts have titles and “death” is the word I went with. I guess its ambivalence reflects my feelings right now.
I suppose the reason is because I have a hard time emotionally not feeling a sense of peace and justice when I realize what a remarkable thing the group of Navy SEALs did yesterday, the fruits of a long search. I watched the news last night and saw people in New York celebrating. Some of them were families of victims who died on 9/11. They seemed relieved, subdued. The crowds more boisterous. That’s when I became a little unsettled. I know people burned American flags overseas after 9/11, but when CNN showed crowds outside the White House and I could hear them singing “Na na na na…Hey, Hey, Goodbye!” I got a little bit of a sick feeling. I heard chants of “USA! USA!” It felt almost sports event-like. (The chanting I heard at an actual sports event probably fed into that perception, but I didn’t see the Philly reaction until a bit later.) I felt weird. Indulge my hand-wringing because there’s ringing in my ears.
President Spencer W. Kimball’s classic “The False Gods We Worship” came to mind. I wasn’t even around when he delivered it, but it still strikes me as remarkably significant having come across the pulpit at General Conference in 1976:
We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:44–45).
Like I said, when I heard bin Laden was dead I felt a strange and good sense of relief. But I also started to think about some of the reasons bin Laden was able to convince people to do what they did. I started to think about how we used what he did to do some things we really shouldn’t be proud of doing. I started to think about what our reaction to the attacks has cost us in money, but more-so in lives and even in quality of living.
“Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11:47-52).
At the same time, I have friends in the military who I want to honor for their service. I want solace to come to the people who lost loved ones in the war, American and non-American. To the ghosts of the slain too. I just have the feeling that we share some of the collective blame due to various contestable foreign policy decisions. It’s hard to talk about because it might make me seem unpatriotic, it also carries the scent of satisfied privilege, I am reaping some benefits even accidentally due to a few outcomes of our war in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, wars that were fought even before I was born. Wars then and now that don’t put physical blood on my hands but might on my soul.
One particular Facebook status update stuck out to me above all as I heard the chanting, flag-waving crowds:
”Tonight is a time of sober reflection, not bacchanalian celebration.”
Things didn’t have to be this way. I feel really conflicted. Please don’t flame me for these thoughts, I’m not trying to cast self-righteous judgment on the people who are celebrating so boisterously, I’m just trying to tell you how I feel about it. I’m not ready to call such reactions immoral or to sit on my high throne and look down on these folks. I’m only trying to express how I feel about it, what my reaction is.
“For behold, the same that judgeth rashly shall be judged rashly again; for according to his works shall his wages be; therefore, he that smiteth shall be smitten again, of the Lord” (Mormon 8:19).
I think about the costs. And I’m happy for those who have an added measure of peace today. What do you say to someone who’s felt a gaping hole in their life for ten years as the result of an act of terrorism? Some of the people with holes reacted by singing last night. Ten years ago some people overseas reacted by burning American flags, they had holes too, some of them, that we haven’t heard about, which might explain our inability to comprehend why they danced in the street by firelight. A lady interviewed on CNN last night at Ground Zero talked about how she never felt like she could really move on with her life after the loss of her husband, then when she heard about the death of bin Laden a weight was lifted from her shoulders, she feels like she can take a new step in life, she felt catharsis. Resolution. It came at the price of more death. But how do you condemn such an honest and raw reaction? Should you? What do you say to the soldier who left her family, the soldier who didn’t see his wife or kids for months at a time, who felt their heart beating as they heard explosions in the distance? Thanks? For so many reasons it feels inadequate. For some reasons it feels right, for a few reasons it feels wrong. Of course, there’s also the matter of the ideological core of the problem being more bullet-proof, being less susceptible to burial at sea.
I feel to pray for the end of war. I don’t feel heard.
A little while after 9/11 a country musician put a song together that said “And you’ll be sorry that you messed with The U.S. of A./ ‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass/It’s the American way!” Another musician called David Bazan put together a song a little while after 9/11 called “Backwoods Nation” (caution: it contains an “F” bomb in a derogatory slur). It’s a dark but tongue-in-cheek expression of that sort of boorish anti-Islamic or anti-Arab sentiment. I hesitate to post it, and I want to point out that the song is not intended by me as an indictment against those who volunteer in the armed forces generally, it’s not intended to say that all Americans felt this way either. It is rather an indictment of a certain ethnocentric attitude that has the potential to creep into all of us, especially during times of war and especially when we see innocent lives of fellow Americans destroyed. It is a graphic song, and it points to some of the problems we have at home even while we seek to change the world abroad.
Calling all rednecks/to put down their sluggers/and turn their attention/from beating the buggers/to pick up machine guns/and kill ************/backwoods nation/Calling all doctors/of spin and the smokescreen/to whip the new hatriots/into a frenzy/of ‘good versus evil’/ignoring the history/of the backwoods nation/and Ain’t it a shame/when due process/stands in the way/of swift justice/Calling all fratboys/to trade in their hazing/their keggers and cocaine/and casual date-raping/for cabinet appointments/and rose garden tapings/backwoods nation
A friend of mine emailed a quote from Elder Marion D. Hanks. I was too young to notice it at the time (1992) if I was watching the Conference session. The quote means something much more to me now that it simply couldn’t have meant at the time—or I should just say the quote means to me now:
Jewish tradition helps us further appreciate the nature of our Heavenly Father in the tender practice of the Half Hallels offered at Passover in celebration of the historic exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt and their passing through the Red Sea. When they reached the sea, the pursuing Egyptian armies overtook them. Through Moses, God divided the waters, “And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground.” (Ex. 14:22.) The Egyptians went in after them. Then Moses stretched his hand again over the sea, and the waters returned. The Israelites were safe, and the Egyptian armies were drowning. Triumphantly the people began to sing hymns of praise to the Lord. But the Almighty stopped them and said, “How can you sing hymns of praise and jubilation when so many of my children are drowning in the sea?”
In remembrance of that event, Jewish people during the latter period of Passover include abridged or shortened psalms of praise, Half Hallels, as part of the celebration.
(Marion D. Hanks, “A Loving, Communicating God,” October 1992 General Conference.)
I still don’t know if I’m an outright pacifist or if I can construct a sound theory of moral warfare. I’m going to take a close look at the proceedings of a recent conference held at Claremont, “War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives.” I feel to congratulate the brave soldiers who succeeded in their mission, to express gratitude for the difficult decision faced by President Obama. I also feel to hope for better decisions by the US abroad, a decrease in military budgets, more efforts toward peace on earth, good will to all. It will probably take me a long time to find a consistent position on matters of war and peace—hell, I probably never will. Right now, though, in the present, I just feel a bit like smiling and crying at the same time.
I’m sorry I’m happy. I’m happy I’m sorry. I’m sorry and I’m happy.