by Nick Mele
Pax Christi USA Disarmament Advisor
Shortly after the Al Qaeda attacks on September 11, 2001, Pax Christi USA asked me to comment on the tragedies of that day. At the time, I urged that we listen to the terrorists and those who supported them to understand and respond effectively to the attacks: “In examining both the causes of the September 11 attacks and the reaction to the U.S. response, we Americans need to hear voices from outside our own culture.”
Twenty years later, we still need to hear the voices of others, whether dissenters from the current debate positions in this country or those trying to speak for the countless voiceless people in Afghanistan, Haiti, or any of the places around the world where the U.S. has planted over 700 military bases. We also need to look at ourselves and acknowledge our own complicity. For example, I protested with words and actions against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but as time went on I failed as a citizen to consistently call elected officials to account for the deaths of many people and the wasting of wealth in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Today, some among us make opportunities to hear those voices from other cultures and from outside our own mainstream culture, perhaps more so than in the past. Unfortunately, those voices are often drowned out by the voices of fearful, angry Americans. That anger, expressed to domestic audiences, is also noted by people around the world, complicating and contradicting the “we’re the good guys” self-image most of us in this country hold.
Many Americans, particularly Americans of color, know we are not always the good guys. Reflecting two decades ago on what prompted the terrorists, I noted “…the irony that the U.S. is one of the most violent societies in the world and exports the aggressive, angry, resort-to-violence mindset in films and television programs seen all over the world.” Since September 2001, our tendency to violence has come home to roost; we still spend billions of dollars on military bases and missions in places most of us know nothing about, often creating resistance if not enemies thereby. At home we suffer from the verbal violence of our polarized societal discourse, the casual killing of people of color, school shootings, mall shootings and the death threats against elected and appointed officials that culminated on January 6, 2021 with an insurrection that threatened all of Congress and the then Vice-President.
For too long, we as a government and as a nation have resorted to a single tool, overwhelming violence, to solve problems. Let’s now stop and take a fearless moral inventory of our professed values, our words, our deeds and our attitudes. As we examine our record of violence at home and abroad since the turn of the century, may it inspire us to take up nonviolent tools; tools like dialogue and respect for others, no matter how threatening they seem to us. Tools like compassion, forgiveness, generosity; the outpouring of support for Afghan refugees coming to the U.S. is evidence that we are still compassionate, generous people. Above all, let us try acknowledging our own faults and working together to reduce violence, to practice respect for every human being, and to restore or establish economic, racial and social justice in every corner of this land.