It is the human instinct to seek revenge. Thus after September 11, 2001, a stunned country found itself in the thrall of a few politicians who played to the nation's lowest instincts. Things could easily have been different. A more mature political response might have been one in which a president stood up and said that the United States would not succumb to fear and stoop to the methods of terrorists, but would seek to use all of the tools of the modern age for the alleviation of poverty and for the heightening of international understanding. Such would have been the Christian response, as is made manifestly clear in the Catholic scriptural readings for September 11, 2005.
Instead, we have witnessed four years of non-stop mutual recrimination and violence. It is worth asking whether the invasion of Afghanistan, which most everyone hailed as a logical consequence of Sept 11, has really made us any safer. The largely unseen consequences include monumental resurgence of heroin production, severe internecine violence, and daily injury to US Military personnel. Meanwhile, the number of international terrorist incidents has escalated four-fold since the US invasion of Afghanistan. If we thought that taking over that distant country would make us safer, we have been proven wrong.
The terrorists have also won at a more personal level. The massive redirection of financial and human resources away from problems like the protection of New Orleans is a testament to how much bin Laden has changed our lives. But more profoundly, our population has been hyped into a sense of anxiety over terrorism not seen since the 1950s. Can anyone truly say that the threats we face now as a nation match those of the Cold War, when nuclear weapons constantly targeted all our major cities?
The wholesale exploitation of Sept 11 to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq, with the hundreds of thousands of deaths and the resultant catastrophe of psychological injury to the children and adults there, is yet again a validation of Jesus' central message that violence begets only violence. There was a time when American presidents were embarrassed to wear their Christianity on their sleeve. They recognized that the perceived need to use violence in service of the national interest created an intrinsic contradiction with allegiance to Jesus' command of love toward our enemies. Now we have an Administration which, under the cover of the Christian name, has made violence its raison d'etre.
As we remember those innocent souls who lost their lives four years ago, let us also remember the more than one hundred people who have since died in the name of each victim of September 11. May we have the courage to awaken as a nation to the realization in Christ's name that the only path to "national security" is, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "War no more." No nation state can hope to achieve this perfection to which Jesus has called us, but all Christians should be able to agree that we should be part of the solution and not the devil at the heart of the problem.