A reader who is not online phoned me last night to get my take on the WTC attack. As with others, like you, who have contacted me, he wanted to see the possibility of something good coming from this calamity. As we talked on, I began to see that there is such a possibility—and it’s entirely in our hands to bring it about. No one and nothing can prevent us from bringing it about—if we wish to.
We want to see an end to terrorism—on that we’re agreed. To take aim at this goal, however, we must stand on the solid, level ground of truth, and this we’re not doing as yet. Our leaders are not speaking the truth as they surely know it; they’re posing (as they have consistently done for many decades). They’re posing as knights in shining armor, as paragons of perfect virtue, as the champions of godliness and decency ready to smite evil-doers (as our enemies must be, by definition). We can find no firm footing in this pose, because it’s false, and so our aim is going to be shaky.
The good we can bring about is to abandon this pose and to stand resolutely on the truth, which is that we can’t pretend to bear no responsibility for the spread of terrorism and to have earned none of the hatred that drives it.
By saying this, I’m not in the least condoning terrorism. I’m just rejecting as useless the fiction that we are immaculate saints while our enemies are Satanic monsters. This kind of posing brings us no honor in the world community and does nothing to steady our aim against terrorism.
But where do we go from there?, my caller wanted to know. It seemed to him that the pose of righteousness gives us a clear program: Rage out into the world with our hands full of bombs to wreak vengeance on the tools of Satan. Yes, the pose of righteousness does give us that, whereas merely standing on the truth does not.
You might say that standing in the pose of righteousness makes us lean toward wrath and violence, whereas standing on the truth merely puts us in balance. In this balanced state, we need to think about what to do. We need to listen to the wisdom of others and to understand what our enemies want—not to concede it to them but in order to defeat them. As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
posted: 30 Oct 2001
updated: 02 May 2005