For Want of Empathy

Since 9/11, I’ve written one book and a few hundred blog entries on the issues of human aggression, the cycle of violence, and the dangerous logic of war-think. All of this is added to an earlier book (Sexual Peace, long out of print) that was written during and in response to the first Iraq War.

The one theme that I return to over and over is the abysmal lack of empathy that afflicts so many Americans and ultimately drives our war-mad foreign policy. Though I’d been writing about this in the ’90s, it was 9/11 that brought it into sharp focus.

According to most Americans: the fact that we were violently assaulted and 3,000 civilians murdered perfectly and righteously justified that thousands of young Americans would join the military, train in the ways of violence, and then fly off to foreign lands to violently assault and kill thousands of people, most of whom were civilians who had nothing to do with the attacks on us. We see these young men and women as fulfilling a sacred, even holy trust, engaged in the noblest of actions, giving their lives in defense of their country.

We certainly wouldn’t call them terrorists or evil-doers.

So they fly off to Afghanistan and Iraq and bomb whole towns to rubble; invade homes in the middle of the night and drag often innocent family members off to torture prisons, killing anyone who gets in the way; riddle cars with bullets when drivers fail to comprehend English directives; drop tens of thousands of bombs that are never “smart” enough to avoid murdering the innocent along with possibly-guilty; and, ultimately kill or displace more than a million people.

Surely, the Afghanis and Iraqis have suffered through far, far, far, far, far worse anguish and pain then Americans did on 9/11. Yet when their young men and women take up arms and attack their attackers we call them evil-doing terrorists.

And so it goes, each attack “justifying” the next, each act of vengeance assuring a new cell of “terrorists” bent on getting their just revenge.

The only way out of this ancient cycle is for some one to be big enough, bold enough, and courageous enough to say: It stops with me. I will not seek revenge. Instead, I will stand for peace and reconciliation.

To turn the other cheek: if America is really a Christian nation, it’s past time to start acting like one.

Michael Sky