The killing of Osama bin Laden is an occasion for deep reflection. It must become a turning point in our nation’s nearly decade-long wars in response to the tragedy of 9/11. As people of faith, and as Catholics who, only days ago, celebrated Christ’s victory over condemnation, torture and death, we pause in this moment in a posture of prayer and repentance. As Christians we are troubled by the displays of celebration and call upon all people of good will to pause and reflect rather than rejoice and exult. We pray for the victims of that terrible day in September: for their families and loved ones, whose lives were changed forever; we pray for the first responders whose sacrifice and heroism inspired a shocked and grieving nation and who laid down their lives in an effort to save others; and for the countless volunteers who spent weeks amidst the rubble, dust and death at Ground Zero and who continue to suffer serious health effects today. However, we also mourn our nation’s misguided response to the events of 9/11, the carnage and mayhem unleashed, the distortion of our deepest values, the abandonment of our highest principles and ultimate subversion of our national character. And so our prayers extend beyond those victims of September 11th and focus also on the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost inAfghanistan,Iraq,Pakistan and across the globe as a direct result of our response.
The spiral of violence of which Pax Christi warned in September 2001 has sadly remained unbroken. The killing of bin Laden becomes one more waypoint in a quest for vengeance that will, as all acts of violence do, lead to ever more violence and death. The cycle must be broken. To do so will take much courage and sustained effort. Our prayers for the victims, both of bin Laden’s violence and our militarized response, must give way to true repentance—a turning away from violence as a path to national redemption. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it… Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate… Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
For nearly a decade our national narrative has been driven by the Global War on Terror unleashed by the events initiated by bin Laden. In a tragic historical confluence, the violence visited upon us that day was perfectly mirrored by the Bush Administration’s response to it. Today, any reflection on the U.S.’s War on Terror cannot escape the historical judgment that mass arrests and indefinite detention, torture, rendition, indiscriminant bombing, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, tens of thousands of U.S. casualties and domestic political demonization and polarization have perversely actualized bin Laden’s highest and most evil aspirations. Sadly, the Obama Administration’s continuation of so many of the Bush-era policies has forestalled any such deep reexamination of our nation’s response to 9/11. For all this we also mourn. But our mourning will be hollow if not coupled with a deep repentance. The time has come to turn the page on this narrative and begin a new story. The time has come to bring our wars to an end. The time has come to write a new narrative, one based on hope and love and not on fear and vengeance. The time has come to bring peace.
Pax Christi USA remains committed to ending the war in Afghanistan and bringing home all our troops. Let the passing of bin Laden usher in a new moment of clarity and wisdom that the events of the last decade have so obscured. Like nearly every other al-Qaeda leader captured or killed since 9/11, bin Laden was ultimately done in—not by the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and not the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan—but by the painstaking and meticulous application of the tools of criminal investigation. As Pax Christi stated ten years ago, the events of 9/11 were a crime against humanity—not an act of war. And so today we also mourn the loss of opportunity that was squandered in the wake of 9/11 that could have pursued the 9/11 criminals without casting the whole world into tumult and war, without unleashing the racism and xenophobia that continue to tear apart communities across the U.S. today.
The costs of our war-based narrative continue to climb even as we mark the demise of the man whose unspeakable violence prompted that response. More than $2 trillion has been spent in pursuit of that war narrative over the past decade. Many new millionaires have been made through the tripling of defense spending since the “war” began and the huge profits it has generated for some. In the meantime, poverty rates have climbed to a record-setting 14.3 percent of Americans in 2009, with one in four black and Latino families living below the poverty line and America’s child poverty rate—one in five kids—now the second worst among rich nations, behind Mexico. We have the world’s most expensive health care system, and yet in 2009 infant mortality in the U.S. was higher than in 29 other countries and the worst among rich nations. The time has come to take decisive steps away from the permanent war economy that has siphoned off so much of our nation’s resources. Such spending over the past decade is what Vatican II succinctly decried as “a genuine theft from the poor.”
Bin Laden may be dead. Bush, Rove, Cheney and Rumsfeld may be gone. But the perfect storm created by their combined hatred, fear and reliance on mass violence continues to exact a deadly toll today. The UN reports that 2011 has been the deadliest year yet for civilians in Afghanistan. This legacy of death cannot be undone by a single execution of one individual in an isolated compound in Pakistan.
As followers of the nonviolent Jesus, we are called to a different journey. Our struggle is to be worthy of the label “Christian” and as such compels us to reject violence and hatred, to eschew celebrations of violent “victories” and to deepen our commitment to “love our enemies” and build a world based on solidarity and the common good. In their statement on the death of Osama bin Laden, the Vatican reaffirms this call: “In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.”
That peace will best be served by ending the decade-old war inAfghanistanand bringing allU.S.troops and private military contractors home. To this end, Pax Christi USA joins its voice with those in the U.S. Senate calling on President Obama to set a concrete withdrawal date for allU.S.forces to leaveAfghanistan. As Pax Christi USA Bishop President Gabino Zavala stated in September 2010: “I say again, the war must be brought to an end, and just as in Iraq, a timetable and date certain must be established for our withdrawal.” This must be our resolve. In contrast to the violent legacy of bin Laden’s life, let this become the concrete outcome of his death.