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Of moats and motes and looking deeply in the mirror

This column was published on the S-T editorial pages June 21, 2004

by Greg Stone

Over and over again we hear the question, "Who could have ever imagined they would use planes in this way?"

Over and over again comes the obvious - and unspoken - answer: Osama bin Laden.

That's right. We, the mightiest nation on earth. We the educated. We the empowered. We the folks who spend more money on defense than the next 17 nations combined. We could not imagine this kind of attack could happen. Therefore, when it came, we were totally unprepared.

And now, as if to find sympathy for their colossal failures, we hear one person after another saying in effect that no one could have imagined such an attack.

Of course they could have. Some bearded guy roaming around in the mountains of the most Godforsaken, backwards country in the world could not only imagine such an attack, but pulled it off.

Ah, but now we know. Really? What is it that we know? That civilian airliners can be used as weapons? That's child's play when compared with the devastation and horror that could be wrought with nuclear or biological weapons.

Can we imagine the next attack? Or the one after that? Do we really think we can stop it by building a moat around Castle America? By strengthening cockpit doors? By searching airline passengers more diligently?

We may think this 9/11 Commission probe is sophisticated. We may think we're getting to the bottom of things. We may think we are finding out what went wrong. But isn't this the simple part of the examination?

Someone just landed a punch on my jaw. Why? because I zigged when I should have zagged. I bobbed when I should have weaved. I was watching his left hand and, he hit me with his right. Simple stuff.

What I really need to know is why does this person want to punch me at all? I can survive one punch. Fifteen rounds is another thing. I want a real answer, not the pablum we're being fed. I want what no Democratic or Republican politician seems willing to do - have the guts to look in the mirror and ask deeply the question that was on everyone's lips in the weeks after September 11.

Why do they hate us so?

George Bush has given us the self-indulging, politician's answer. They hate us because they hate our freedom. Really? Nineteen people sat around in the mountains of Afghanistan, or their homes in Saudi Arabia, and said: "Gee, America has too much freedom. I hate that? Don't you hate that? Let's commit suicide and take a bunch of them with us."

Why do they hate us so?

They hate us because we are good and they are evil.

What are we, children? Do we really believe the world is that simple? There are good guys - us - and there are bad guys - them? That all you need to tell the good guys from the bad guys is to ask them where they are from? If they are from America, they are good. If they are from somewhere else, they are evil?

Why do they hate us so?

Because they were unlucky enough to be born into poverty and we were lucky enough to be born into one of the most wonderful societies the world has ever known?

Maybe.

Because they think we are rich because we are ripping them off? They have the oil. We want the oil. But somehow we end up with the oil and only a few of them get rich - the ones we have struck a deal with. Is this why they hate us?

Maybe.

Because we killed democracy in Iran and supported monarchies and tyrants throughout the middle East - monarchies and tyrants who rip off their people?

Maybe.

Because we support Israel and they support the Palestinians?

Maybe.

Because they believe in a paternalistic culture and think we are robbing them of this and spreading a culture of greed and moral decay?

Maybe.

The only thing I am certain of is this: We are not the good guys. They are not the bad guys. Maybe we're mostly good. Maybe they're mostly bad, or maybe it's a closer thing with the good and bad fairly evenly distributed.

But maybe it has nothing to do with being good or bad. Maybe we simply don't understand one another. Didn't you ever offend someone without knowing it? Without intending it. Maybe someone as close as your wife, or husband, or child, or parent, or neighbor?

We have made some people terribly angry. We have spent millions of dollars and countless hours trying to discover how it is they managed to sucker punch us. But we haven't spent five minutes asking ourselves why they hate us so. We haven't spent a dollar in trying to understand their motives and correct the situation.

I don't know if we can ever prevent another terrorist attack. But I do know that we will not if we simply sit around accepting the kind of answers we are getting from politicians who want our vote. Pat the nice American people on the head. Tell them they're good, Then you get elected.

It's a tough, complicated world. And getting along with our neighbors is one of the most difficult things we do. Maybe we can't do it. But right now the whole world is our neighbor and everything we have done since September 11 has made those who already hated us, hate us more - and many of those who were our friends, start to hate us.

We have to step back from this silliness. We have to rethink. And part of that rethinking has to be a long, hard look in the mirror. And that will be one hundred times as difficult as the self-examination the 9/11 Commission just put us through - and many, many times more profitable.

Jesus said it best 2,000 years ago. "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" Matthew - 7:3
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