Bitter Angels of our Nature
September 20, 2001
As I watched in abject horror the video of the September
11th attacks and their aftermath there were words coming and
going through my mind.
The voice-acted words of Abraham Lincoln, expressed in Ken
Burns' documentary "The Civil War" haunted me. "The bottom
is out of the tub. What will I do? What will I do?" From the
same documentary the words of Stonewall Jackson, upon seeing
the destruction of Fredricksburg by the Union troops, "Kill
'em. Kill 'em all."
From further back in time a country and western song surfaced.
As I thought of the person responsible for conceiving and
ordering this attack the line "I'd like to spit some Beechnut
in that dude's eye, then shoot him with my ol' .45!" came
drifting through, unbidden.
Hatred for those who did this filled me so strongly that
I forgot who I was. I went so far as to say to my wife "If
this came from Afghanistan we are going to show the Russians
how it's done!"
As I realized what had crossed my lips I started coming back
to my senses. I still wanted to see the country of whoever
did this turned into a glass crater, but I was cooling. I
realized that I was listening to the bitterness of a heart
in pain. The bitter angel.
As Wednesday dawned and the sky was vacant except for military
aircraft I became more like myself.
It is all too easy to react to violence with violence. It
is far too easy to plan mayhem and murder. It is much, much
harder to react with care and with forethought. To act with
compassionate justice rather than with swift injustice.
As I write these words the American press is still stating
that Osama bin Laden is the most likely person to have been
behind this attack. So far, however, no one has reported on
where the money came from. Where did the money the suicide
attackers live on and go to flight school with come from?
They were using credit cards to buy tickets. Who collects
and pays the bills on those cards?
Money doesn't move through banks anonymously. You can try
to hide it. You can try to bury it under a stack of misleading
data. Eventually, though, you find the point where money from
A changed into money used for B. The only way to avoid this
is to keep it all in cash. From start to finish. Credit cards
are not cash. There is a paper trail.
Since the press has reported that the suspected attackers
used credit cards then we should find the paper trail leading
back to the one who plotted this. It was done to the satisfaction
of a jury in the original World Trade Center bombing trials.
Maybe that trail will take time to dig up. If so, we should
be holding our tongues until we find out where it leads.
The people of Afghanistan didn't attack us. The Taliban might
have played a role, but they are not all of the people who
happen to live in Afghanistan. So far all that is certain
is that the Taliban won't allow us to come and take bin Ladin
away. So far he is only a suspect. He has not been tried.
How many years did France allow a convicted murderer to live
free on their soil? If we aren't going to bomb France for
failing to turn over a convicted murderer then why would we
bomb Afghanistan for failing to let us have a suspect? Why
is there a double standard here? Is it because we are, in
When the attackers killed civilians in our country we became
outraged. This has happened very, very little in our country.
Until September 11th , the worst attack by terrorists on U.S.
civilians on U.S. soil was the work of one of our own.
But if we start dropping bombs on Afghanistan aren't we killing
their civilians on their soil? How would our service people
be different from the attackers? George W. Bush called the
attackers "cowards". The men who carried out the attack took
their own lives, putting them beyond any punishment we might
impose. Aren't the service people who launch the missiles
from hundreds of miles away even more free from retribution
from the Afghani people? Most of those missile-launching service
people will go home when it's over. Back to their families.
They will not be killing themselves when they kill their civilian
What the attackers did is wrong. The person or persons who
sent them to do it was doing wrong. Calling the deaths of
innocent civilians "collateral damage" is wrong. That, however,
is what will happen if we drop any bombs on Afghanistan. We
will be killing their civilians with impunity. We will be
visiting upon innocent people the same horror we now feel.
Doesn't that make us "cowards," too?
What is the difference between a loved one buried in the
rubble of a 110 story building and a loved one buried in the
rubble of a two story building? Is our grief greater because
our building was bigger?
I am not proposing that America "get over it." I am
proposing that America should stand up as a more mature form
of nation. One that stops killing many innocent people to
get a few guilty ones.
There has to be a way to get the person or persons responsible
for this act. We must not, however, continue to visit death
and destruction upon the innocent to achieve this goal. It
is the method we have used in Lybia and in Iraq without success.
It is the method Israel uses on the Palestinians without success.
With all this failure evident in the world why have we not
tried some other method?
To get the people responsible for the bombing of the Murrah
Federal Building in Oklahoma City we did not drop bombs on
Terry McNichols' trailer park. We did not send cruise missiles
to the home of Timothy McVeigh.
Why would we act as though Osama bin Laden's neighbors and
family are more worthy of becoming "collateral damage" than
As hard as it will be we must transcend the violence. We
must listen to the better angels of our nature, not just the