Ethics Forums

A Vision of Peace


Lawrence M. Hinman

San Diego Union-Tribune, October 12, 2001, B7

            In the days since the terrorist attack, I have found myself yearning for a vision of the future, a vision sufficiently strong and clear that can guide us through the perilous times that lie before us.

            It is a vision of peace, a vision that allows for the possibility of specific and intense attacks against those responsible for the attacks against the United States and yet also a vision that is crafted with a commitment to peace at its center.  Let me articulate its elements.

            First, it is clear that those responsible for planning and assisting in the attacks against the WTC and the Pentagon must be brought to justice.  No country can permit such an attack to go unanswered.  Yet our military response should be as narrowly focused and precisely executed as possible. Large scale military operations against those on the periphery of the groups responsible will create more enemies than they eliminate.  If we engage in large scale military operations, we will fail.  For every “fanatic” we kill, we will create two converts. 

            Second, our principal response ought to be a concerted effort to bring conditions of genuine economic and social justice to the Middle East.  This is no small goal, and obviously not one that we can accomplish easily or in its entirety.  Yet this is the long-term answer to terrorism.  We will never be able to eliminate fanatics like bin Laden, but we will be able to remove the basis of popular support such extremists must have to flourish.  Not only does this involve taking a more even-handed stance toward politics in the Middle East, but it also involves a aggressive plan to bring countries like Afghanistan into the world community.  This may involve aid to the citizens of Afghanistan as well as strengthening in various ways the moderate wing of Islam. 

            In the past, the United States has demonstrated the wisdom of such an approach, although only after an enemy has been thoroughly vanquished.  The Marshall Plan, at the end of World War II, is probably the best example of this enlightened self-interest: by helping a vanquished Germany to rebuild, we established a staunch ally and avoided the cycle or retribution and recurrent war that marked the end of World War I.  We need to pursue a similar policy in the Middle East, forging new alliances and interdependencies.  We cannot wipe out the rebels, but we can erode their power base by reaching out to those who live in one of the poorest and most embattled countries in the world.

            Third, we can take a major step toward the vision of peace by living up to our own ideals abroad.  For too long, we have turned a blind eye to the human rights violations of our friends while condemning those same actions on the part of non-allies.  We need to hold ourselves and our friends to the same high standards we set for our enemies.  Similarly, we need to sign key treaties—such as the U.N. treaty on the rights of children, the landmine treaty, and various environmental accords—that are deeply consistent with our highest ideals even when they conflict with short-term and short-sighted economic and military goals. 

            Fourth, we need to take positive steps toward the establishment of a genuine world court of criminal justice.  This is only feasible if we are willing to let justice be blind, to be applied even-handedly to our friends and ourselves as well as to our foes.  There is wide opposition to terrorism at the moment, and this moment in history offers us a unique opportunity to build on this shared outrage and move toward a world court of criminal justice.  The surest way to erode such support, however, is to play partisan politics, to want justice to apply to our enemies and mercy to our friends.  The formation of an international coalition dedicated to establishing a truly international standard of justice will only flourish if we are committed to genuine justice, not partisan enforcement that meets narrow political ends.

            Finally, we need to hold firmly to a vision of peace throughout all this.  Our goal is not to win, whatever that might mean.  It is certainly not to banish evil from the world.  Rather, it is to create peace, to let the guiding principle behind our decisions be an abiding concern with creating a just and lasting peace throughout the Middle East, including Afghanistan.  In the long run, this is the only real way to protect ourselves against terrorism.  Congress approved $40 billion in response to this terrorist attack.  Let a percentage of that be devoted to a military operation directly against those responsible for this attack, but apportion a large part of that money to the active pursuit of peace and justice in the Middle East.  A military operation needs to be part of our overall response to this attack, but it need not be the only or even the principal element in that response.  Let our primary response be guided by a vision of how to create lasting peace and justice in one of the poorest and most war-torn parts of the world.