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Dear Mr. President: Words of Resistance, Reason, and Peace

From A Former Marine
by Greg Nees

September 13, 2001

Dear Mr. President,

I am a former Marine Corps sergeant who served his country well and was honorably discharged in 1970. I have never written such a letter before and I pray that it will somehow get through the bureaucratic filters to reach you. Like so many Americans, I was appalled and shocked by the death and destruction we witnessed two days ago. I am now coming out of my shock and am very concerned about the grievous state in which our country and the world find themselves. We have suffered a horrible attack and far too many of us have suffered and died. I am greatly saddened and sickened by the carnage and suffering of the victims and their families. I know you too are suffering and I can feel your anger and frustration as well as your desire for active retaliation and I understand it well. It is a natural and justifiable reaction to such a heinous criminal act.

And yet I would counsel you to proceed carefully. I fear we are in a perilous situation and a mistake on our part could easily widen the already huge spiral of violence in which the world finds itself. Mr. President, you now have the great opportunity to prove to the world that the United States is more than just a great economic and military power to be feared. It is up to you to show all of the world that the United States is also a law abiding and civilized country which can be trusted to follow the laws of the world as well as let itself be guided by the wisdom of human understanding and compassion.

I urge you to use all legal means at your disposal to determine who perpetrated this horrible crime and to bring them to trial before the appropriate court. Let them indeed find the justice the world awaits and needs. But I beg you, let not one more innocent life - be it American, Israeli, Palestinian or any other - be lost because of this horrible crime. Too often our bombs and weapons have taken the lives of innocent victims. I believe the military euphemism is "collateral damage" but in reality it is manslaughter if not outright murder. What right can we claim that allows us to take more innocent lives? Is that not also a form of terrorism? Should we lower ourselves to the level of those who attacked the World Trade Center or should we stand tall and take the legal and moral high ground?

You have chosen to describe this as an act of evil. I fear using such inflammatory language will only worsen the situation. Such language will all too easily incite a lynch mob mentality, when what we need is the compassion which Jesus taught as well as the cool reason which will help us reach our true goals of global peace, prosperity and democracy for all people of the world. Lead us, Mr. President, with dignity and wisdom and do not pander to the primitive parts of our beings that are all too powerfully calling out at this moment. Show the world that you too are a leader with the greatness, strength and courage to seek true understanding and restorative justice, just as Nelson Mandela did in South Africa.

Rather than characterizing the attack as an act of evil, I see it as a terrible last act of desperation by people who believed they had no other way to make themselves heard than to resort to violence and mayhem. It is absolutely critical that we see not only their willingness to use horrible, illegal means, but that we also hear their desperation which makes them view such means as the highest form of heroism including the sacrifice of their very lives. As a former Marine, I know what it means to be willing to sacrifice one's life for a cause one truly believes in. While I see these people as horribly misguided, hate-filled and desperate, I do not believe they are cowardly or evil.

If we are to truly resolve the hatred and violence, we need to understand that in their eyes, they see themselves as a tiny, heroic David fighting against a huge, monstrous Goliath who seeks to kill them and their way of life. We certainly need not agree with their views, but we must understand them if we ever hope to achieve a lasting peace and not a world that is locked down and bereft of all the civil rights and freedoms we cherish so highly.

Months ago we saw magazine pictures of a young Palestinian child being cradled for hours in the arms of his father. Innocently caught in a gun battle the child died from bullet wounds and the father could not move to save him. Can you begin to imagine the anguish, pain and sense of injustice this father must have felt? As a father yourself, how would you have felt in such a situation as the life oozed out of your child and you were pinned down and absolutely helpless? It is such intensely unbearable images and feelings that drive people to such desperate measures as we witnessed on Wednesday in New York and Washington.

In this moment of deep crisis, is also a moment of immense opportunity. I urge you to take this opportunity to move our world away from violence and suffering and towards peace, freedom and abundance for all. Let these voices of desperation be heard and let the perpetrators have their day in court. Show them that we truly do believe in law and justice for all. Let us not make the mistake we did recently at Durban, but rather let us bring all voices to the table, even if they are screaming and telling the stories we would like not to hear. We are truly a superpower and we are too used to talking and expecting others to listen. Show the world that we are also strong enough to learn to listen. I know you are a Christian and I pray that you will indeed do what Jesus Christ counseled and not rashly lash out in violence. May God give you the wisdom to find the great opportunity for peace that lies in this horrible tragedy. I hope that later in this century historians will look back and applaud your greatness of spirit and cool sense of reason that moved our globalizing world closer to justice and democracy for all.

Respectfully,

Greg Nees

 


 
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