Lessons from the 10 Years Since 9/11

A couple of days ago a trending topic on Twitter was #BiggestLessonLearnedfrom911. I think for the first time in my life I took the opportunity to tweet something on a trending topic as I said:

Violence only leads to more violence. Hatred only creates more hatred. When will we stop the escalating cycle?

To me that is the biggest lesson from September 11th, 2001. There are definitely some exceptions of course. Lots of people, Christian and otherwise, even right away still tried to break that cycle. Not everybody immediately agreed that the solution was to start a war that would kill far more innocent people than the planes ever did. And I’ll be harsh: I know that a lot of Americans and even Canadians don’t really care nearly as much about those innocent people because we are avenging the loss of our innocent people. And that is understandable and is a part of human nature for sure.

But it does illustrate the problem. Al Qaeda killed a bunch of innocent Americans. Americans killed a bunch more innocent Afghanis, plus some Iraquis as a bonus. In 2001 many were certain that it would be worth it – not just to avenge the killed Americans but many believed that it would actually stop terrorism. We even called it a war on terrorism. And I’m not sure the American war on terrorism is any less terrorism than the terrorism it is attempting to stomp out. It is depressingly ironic in my opinion. In any case, it clearly hasn’t worked, and if anything I would bet that Al Qaeda is stronger than it was 10 years ago, because now they (like their American enemies) can all cite that specific civilian friend that they knew who was killed by “those terrible human beings” on the other side. And neither side seems to realize that both of their attitudes are actually pretty much the exact same.

It is the same attitude behind the “war to end all wars” of WWI – if we just win this one than we can guarantee there won’t be any more… which held true for all of 20 years. No historian would even deny that the way that WWI ended, with the incredibly unfair penalties imposed on the losing side, provided the majority of the motivation for the Second World War. There is an assumption that violence “works” and nonviolence just isn’t practical, but I’ve come to believe that you can never end war with war, terrorism with terrorism, hate with hate. You may be able to postpone it until they develop better weapons, but you’ll only ever create more anger and violence when you use anger and violence, so a lot of the time we can’t say that violence works even if the war qualifies as “just”.

I don’t know what the solution is. I can’t and wouldn’t expect the American government to not retaliate. I think the most that can realistically happen would be not starting new un-instigated and unjust wars. I don’t even blame them for Afghanistan because from their perspective they have to do it. If it weren’t for the loss of civilian life, I might even be willing to say that the Afghanistan war started out meeting the traditional just war criteria. But as usual my point isn’t so much aimed at the state as it is at the church. I don’t think violent retribution is the Christian’s duty. Our allegiance is first to Christ and his Kingdom of love and sacrifice for others, not to avenging deaths of our fellow Americans or Canadians. I believe nonviolence and selfless sacrifice, as demonstrated and taught by the God-man who Christians claim as their Lord, is really the only way to end the cycle.

This is likely the only time you’ll ever catch me quoting a politician, but I want to finish with these words from the end of Jack Layton’s final letter to Canadians before his recent death:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

I genuinely believe that the real power to change the world does not come through using the world’s tactics. We can’t fight fear by trying to scare them back, or fight anger by being angrier with a bigger weapon, or fight despair by giving them even bigger reasons to despair too. We can, and as Christians we are called to fight anger, fear, and despair instead with love, hope, and optimism.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.