I was a sophomore in high school sitting in my morning math class when we heard something about a plane crashing into a building in New York. My teacher turned on the television where we saw smoke rising from one of the Twin Towers. The bell rang and we went to our next class, mostly confused. “How could that happen?” we wondered. We watched as another plane flew into the second tower, right before our very eyes. I was still fairly naïve, but this sure didn’t seem like a coincidence. A little later, we heard about yet another plane crashing into the Pentagon. We watched in horror as the towers collapsed, killing thousands of people. We were shocked, confused, brokenhearted. Before long it became clear that these were no accidents, but deliberate terrorist attacks. Now, in addition to the shock, confusion, and sorrow, we felt anger and fear.
That evening, President George W. Bush vowed that those responsible for these horrific attacks would be found and brought to justice. Nine days later, President Bush stood before Congress and declared war on terror: “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.” Seventeen days after that, on October 7, 2001, the United States military began bombing Al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan.
I supported the plan. I wanted the people who had caused us so much pain to pay for what they had done, and I was not alone. According to Gallup, in the first six months of the war 89-93% of us believed that we were doing the right thing.
It has now been nearly fourteen years since the War on Terror began. In that time, more than 8,300 men and women from US and Coalition forces have been killed. That is nearly three times the number of lives lost in the initial attacks on 9/11, and it doesn’t even include the thousands of Afghan and Iraqi civilians who have been killed or displaced in the “collateral damage.” And yet, despite the thousands of lives lost and the billions of dollars spent in this War on Terror, the Middle East is arguably less stable now than it was fourteen years ago. Despite fourteen years of war, terrorist organizations continue to thrive.
As I reflect on all of this I cannot help but wonder, “What if?” What if we had chosen to follow the teaching and the example of Jesus who, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23)? What if we hadn’t responded to violence with violence? What if we had turned the other cheek? What if we had chosen to forgive? What if we had followed the example of men like Gandhi who understood that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind? What if we had heeded the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. who taught that “hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction?” What if we had paid attention to the proverb that reminds us that a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh one stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1). What if we had listened to the instruction of the Apostle Paul:
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)
What if we really believed that enemy love and forgiveness truly had the power to transform hearts and minds? What if? I don’t know.
 Martin Luther King Jr, Strength to Love (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 47.
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