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"If you want to work for world peace,
go home and love your families."

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The War on Terrorism
One Perspective

"The ultimate measure of a man is
not where he stands in moments
of comfort and convenience,
but where he stands at times
of challenge and controversy.
The true neighbor will risk his
position, his prestige and even
his life for the welfare of others."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "On Being a
Good Neighbor" in Strength to Love, 1963







I was raised for a good many years as a born again Christian. Committed to a fundamental belief dictated by Christ that we are to "love our neighbors and our enemies as ourself." I now believe a good many things…some of the teachings and philosophies the Bible and Jesus as well as teachings from Buddha and subsequent Buddhist/Zen masters (teachers). I would have to say that Compassion is predominant in guiding my life and actions now and that reverence for all life is a key aspect of that belief system.
The recent terrorist actions against the country in which I live have caused me great pain and ethical/moral confusion. My heart-breaks for the people who lost their lives – every single one of them, and for the families who must now learn and accept that loved ones are not coming home ever again – in many of these cases they will never even find sufficient physical evidence or presence of their loved ones to bury. The mourning and grief that shall be experienced by so many is almost inconceivable to the human mind when compounded by the thousands…I, myself, have wept and continue to weep when the stories and confirmations of deaths are revealed by the media.

Our president and many people speak of retaliation (a word which denotes repayment or returning ‘like for like’) on the organization(s) responsible for this tremendous loss of life, property, and freedom (people living in fear of what is next). We have learned that this was not a rag-tag team of a dozen radicals acting out, but a highly-organized, well-financed team of hundreds possibly thousands of like-minded individuals working covertly and for the most part undetected in and among the people and communities they were and are willing to sacrifice for their cause. A cause which is claimed to be religious though experts and authorities as well as practitioners and leaders of that faith denounce these actions and excuses for action as contrary to their beliefs and deeply saddening to them as well.

By the same voice our president speaks of bringing the terrorists and their organization, supporters, financiers, and protectors to justice (principle of moral rightness; equity). Because these actions are so publicly and personally painful, I have my doubts that true justice – or an impartial administering of the law or ‘rightness’ – will be possible both because objectivity or impartiality towards such a devastating act (and it's perpetrators) will be difficult if not impossible for anyone American or not to maintain, and because it seems that there just may be some crimes that are so heinous and so detrimental to the whole of a species (not merely one segment of the global population) that to permit it to go unchallenged and unpunished seems too great an injustice (a moral ‘wrongness’) itself.
I always thought that if America (and actually the world) were drawn to war again in my lifetime – one of the magnitude we may now be facing – I would be a dove. Chanting and demonstrating for peace, compassion and against the taking of additional lives -- whether guilty or innocent. I am an opponent of the death penalty but understand that often police must kill or be killed. I find that I am not a supporter of retaliation or revenge. That is, my heart is not calling for merely revenge for the crimes inflicted on more than 6,000 human lives silenced – I have never been one to believe in returning ‘evil for evil.’ However, I do wish to see justice done for those victims and their families. Punishment for this criminal act to deter future criminal acts. Give the magnitude of the crime, I don't believe it is possible for us to 'turn the other cheek' or 'slap someone on the wrists' for a fear the moment we do, we will find we've been stabbed in the back. To my surprise, I find myself inclined to support military and defensive actions for the protection and preservation of life not only in the United States but for all the countries and citizens of the world who may be the next target(s) of such impassioned and determined purveyors of violence, death and destruction. I find that I can only think of it as sacrificing the few to protect the many more who may be targetted.
I find it difficult and confusing to feel this way--especially knowing that feelings and principals don't often agree. But, recently I read some ethical statements made by Albert Schweitzer. they come from a book that documents his life’s journals and writings as they relate to animals. I had read them, and prepared at some point, to share them as part of a discussion that addressed the sacrificing of one animal for another – specifically, saving or maintaining the life of a carnivorous animal which would entail the sacrifice of other animals for his/her sustenance. It’s a painful argument for me, being that as an (human) omnivore I have the option of (and do choose) a vegetarian diet so that my existence isn’t directly responsible for animal lives sacrificed for food (though I have no allusions regarding the fact that the same number of animals are still being killed whether I eat them or not; instead I know their blood is not on my hands). I never used his text in the discussion, but feel that they can be extrapolated to address the moral dilemma we now face.
As I reread the quotes from Schweitzer, who is regarded as having been an intelligent, virtuous, spiritual and noble man, I realized that his own inner turmoil and conclusions regarding the "ethics of sacrifice" were just as applicable today in the face of these terrorist acts, possible war, and in relation to our own species. As we face "war on terrorism," I can concede – though I do so with a heavy heart for each potential life lost – that some lives will and must be sacrificed for the greater good, the preservation of many more lives. This is truly not a happy conclusion to reach, and as Schweitzer stated, it is reached only "under the compulsion of a necessity which he (we) cannot escape," and that it is "never from thoughtlessness."
I will not cheer if and when a bomb deployed meets its target and destroys the lives of our enemies and innocent citizens in our enemies borders or camps. I will not rejoice. I will be saddened and will likely weep for the loss of life--aware of the sacrifice we must cause and will acknowledge that their blood is as much on my hands as any one else’s (government or military). I, likewise, will be saddened by thoughts and acknowledgements that many may suffer malnutrition, starvation, displacement and loss of all their worldly goods--on both sides of this conflict--and I shall weep for them as well and do what I can to support their relief. My hope is that in the delay our president has taken – for thoughtfulness, perspective, and planning – means that these actions will not be taken in anger as revenge, retribution or retaliation, but from the "compulsion of a necessity which he cannot escape." So I find myself neither clearly a dove nor hawk in the face of this great conflict…I am supporting those I know (and those I don’t) in the military who are doing their duty to country and hoping beyond hope that what must be done can be done with minimal loss of life to achieve the peace and freedom we respect, revere and cherish. I hope for peace, but understand that peace and continued freedom often come with a big, sad price tag.

Albert Schweitzer’s passages referenced:

An Unshakable Conviction: Out of such heart-breaking experiences that often shamed me there slowly arose in me the unshakable conviction that we had the right to bring pain and death to another being only in case of inescapable necessity, and that all of us must feel the horror that lies in thoughtless torturing and killing. This conviction has become increasingly dominant within me. I have become more and more certain that at bottom we all think so, and simply do not dare to admit it and practice it, because we are afraid that others will laugh at us for being sentimental, and because we have allowed our better feelings to be dulled.

[The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer -- from his journals/writings -- pgs 46-47 (Kindheit pp 25-26)]

What Life Must We Sacrifice? All life is holy to the truly ethical man – even that which from the human standpoint seems to be lower life. This man makes distinctions under the force of necessity, as cases arise when he must decide what life he must sacrifice for the sake of another life. As he makes this decision in case after case, he is aware that his responsibility for the life that is sacrificed. I rejoice over the new methods of treating sleeping sickness which permit me to save life where previously I could only watch a painful infirmary. Every time that I place under the microscope the agent of sleeping sickness, however, I cannot but think that I have to annihilate this life in order to save another.

From the natives I buy a young fish eagle, which they have caught on the sandbank, in order to rescue it from their cruel hands. But now I must decide whether I shall let it starve, or whether I shall kill a certain number of small fish every day in order to keep it alive. I decide upon the latter course. But every day I find it rather hard to sacrifice – upon my own responsibility – one life for another.

Standing as he does with every other creature, under the law of the will-to-live, with its inner inconsistency, the human being finds himself again and again in the position of being able to preserve his own life and life in general only at the cost of other life. If he is moved by the ethics of reverence for life, he injures and destroys life only under the compulsion of a necessity which he cannot escape, never from thoughtlessness. If he is a free man, he seeks, so far as he has the opportunity, to taste the blessedness of being able to sustain life and of protecting it from pain and annihilation…

[Ibid. pgs 173-174 (Leben, pp 202-203)]

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A Tribute to the Victims | War on Terrorism: One Perspective