As of this writing the death toll in Paris has reached 132. The bombings in Beirut claimed 43. A downed Russian airliner brought 224 passengers to a smoldering grave in the Sinai Peninsula. This list goes on. The world is at war, whether we admit it or not.
Now we must ask ourselves: “Where do we go from here?”
Amidst all the vigils, profile picture updates and heartfelt prayers we have to take time to consider what comes next. As Americans we should be wary of this moment because it’s only been 14 years since we were in France’s position.
Less than 24 hours after the twin towers fell in New York 14 years ago, writer Hunter Thompson made an eerily accurate prediction of the years to come.
“The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for peace in our time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are at war now—with somebody—and we will stay at war with that mysterious enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be a religious war, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.”
Time has proven him right. We are still fighting that war. There is still no end in sight. French President François Hollande’s speech at the Bataclan nightclub spelled out that same future.
"We wanted to be here, among all those who saw these atrocious things, to say that we will lead the fight, and it will be merciless."
Hollande isn’t promising justice. He’s promising revenge.
These attacks were not just against France, Lebanon, Russia, etc. They are against us all. The U.S. will join in on the coming escalation. Time will tell if we make the same mistakes as we did after 9/11.
The danger is that we will. Thompson understood what would happen over a decade ago and we all need to consider our path now because that path can be just as destructive.
We’ll blame the refugees that fled Syria to escape the violence. We’ll shut them out and risk more turning to a darker path that offers them a way out. We’ll blame the Muslim community all the same. We’ll pick whatever is the most convenient face to put on this nebulous hate that spans the globe so we have a place to focus our rage, regardless of how misguided it will be. We’ll paint broad caricatures over bull’s-eyes as our drones block out the sun.
We’ll allow it to own our elections. We’ll rally behind the candidate who beats the war drums the loudest.
We’ll create new Guantanamo Bays, new Abu Ghraibs, new PATRIOT Acts and new NSAs. We’ll deal off our freedoms to ensure a pyrrhic security.
ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Nusra—in the end it won’t matter as long as we have a direction to point a gun.
We’ll turn justice into revenge but we won’t do it out of hate. We’ll do it out of fear.
Hate is simple: hate is a product, not a cause. Our collective fear is what is dangerous because fear has the unique ability to turn good people cruel.
This isn’t a call for peace. Thompson was right. There is no peace in our time. We will fight, but our real struggle lies in why.
The world can be a bitter, cruel, unfair place but it still has the capacity for beauty. That capacity is what we fight for. We cannot solely resign ourselves to simply destroying evil but rather to preserving good in spite of it.
That indomitable spirit of compassion is who we are as a whole. It is what we stand for as a civilized world. If we want to survive as a civilization, we cannot toss our convictions into the bonfires of rage so readily.
If we want to persevere, we have to be better than what we fight.