I was 17 when terrorists struck the World Trade Center in NYC. I was in my senior year in high school and remember gathering in the library as the morning played out on a television on a media cart. Some of my classmates were scared; which was probably more due to the shock and horror on our teachers’ faces than because of the events themselves. That is how I understood the gravity of the event. I knew from watching my teachers that this particular morning was going to change the world, and I knew two things for certain: America was going to war and America was going to win.
And why wouldn’t I think that? I’d been taught in every history class, every year that America had won every conflict of which it has ever been a part. Years before as a kid I used to walk down to the Wilson Farms convenient store on the corner of Buffalo and 2nd Streets and buy trading cards of the Desert Storm soldiers. We traded cards of real American soldiers who in my lifetime showed me what war looked like: In and out. Power and might. The good guys live. The good guys win. I was certain that for the evildoers that orchestrated that attack, retribution was coming. I cheered it on.
If I grieved, it was short-lived. By the afternoon of 9/11 I couldn’t understand why people were so upset. If the Toby Keith song (which he would write months later) already existed, I’m sure I would have been singing it through the halls, “We’ll stick a boot up you’re a$$, it’s the American way.” (When that album came out, I bought it, and I went and saw him perform it live in concert in Erie that summer.)
The following fall several of my friends enlisted. I was proud of them. I still am. It felt like we had something worth fighting for and against. And to each of their credits, they did. But the conflict that followed did not look like the Gulf War of my childhood. There were no playing cards of my friends near the cash registers of grocery stores. No moments of surrender and the only victory speech proved to be hopeful thinking. Our enemies were ideologies rather than a nations or people. Rhetoric and propaganda fueled hate and grew our enemies’ ranks. If you told that boy in that library that he would be sitting here nearly 2 decades later with the war on terror still raging, he would not believe you.
But here I am. Here we are. And as I write this it appears that more conflict is coming. And I wonder what the kids in the library today (or more than likely on their smart phones) who cannot comprehend the gravity of the situation at hand think of it, and, more, what they may be learning from looking at me and you.
Many years later, I no longer root for war the way my younger self did. I no longer anticipate easy victories. I no longer believe the ends justify the means. Truthfully, since it seems like every conflict of my adulthood has perpetuated conflict and my latest history classes teach slightly different versions of “America has never lost a war,” I wonder about the effectiveness of war altogether. I do not root for it. I pray about it. I pray for everyone effected by it. I pray for our soldiers. I pray for our enemies. I pray for our families and for theirs. I pray that we may recognize the human cost. And I pray that the conflict may be about justice and lead to peace.
But while I wonder about war’s effectiveness and while I hope to experience a world without it, I recognize that I may not see such a day. Until then, I pray that the wars that are fought are last resort responses to tyranny and injustice. And in those cases, the men and women who are called upon to fight such wars should be held in esteem and cared for. If today’s veteran mental illness rates and suicide rates teach us anything, it should be a sobering reminder about the reality of war, and we must be ready to see that the our desire for our enemies, we also inflict upon ourselves. Supporting the troops needs to mean more than giving them your seat on an airplane and universally standing behind the conflicts they are called to fight. It means recognizing the job they are asked to do and the toll of it; listening, learning, and supporting them with authentic relationship rather than bumper stickers and hashtags.
Here’s what I ask of us, as the conflict with Iran reaches its boiling point do not be calloused or political with your response, but realistic, reflective and faithful. Do the hard work of turning that human desire for vengeance into forgiveness and hopes for justice. Pray that the “peace on earth” we that longed for with the dim lights and silence of our Christmas Eve worship may be realized not just in our cathedrals but where the angels said it would should up: on the whole earth. But if conflict proves inevitable, instead of pointing fingers and placing blame, pray and care for those most effected.
Our children are watching. My fear is that we are still teaching them the lesson of war that I learned. That war is like a sporting event and America is the home team. For goodness sake, we traded the cards. But war is not a game, and I wish someone had told me sooner.
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.