I cannot describe how I felt when I heard the news of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We are partly and appropriately struck silent with the enormous loss of life in the collapse of the Twin Towers, the explosion at the Pentagon, and the highjacked airliners that were crashed. If your loved ones perished yesterday as a result of these acts, please know that you have my deepest sympathy, and our heart-felt prayers go out to all involved. As the Bible says, “when one suffers, we all suffer” [I Corinthians 12:26].
As I listened to the reports, I felt the same way I did when President Kennedy was assassinated, or when President Reagan was shot, or when Pearl Harbor was attacked – which I am old enough to remember. Such acts cause grief not just for the loss of life, but for the assault they are upon our deepest beliefs. They assault the very soul of America.
Terrorism, the warfare of the new century, is engaged in for the specific purpose of destabilizing free societies. The terrorists succeed if free people cower in fear and begin to restrict their treasured freedom and liberties. We should never succumb to terrorist-inspired fear. We can never allow such people to win. Instead, we must renew our commitment to the most fundamental liberties and to the rule of law.
And we must support our government in its response. God established government to preserve order by punishing evil and seeking justice. Without this restraint on human sinfulness, the strong will prey on the weak, and seek to impose their will on others.
What is true in relations between individuals is also true in relations between nations. As St. Augustine wrote 1600 years ago, loving God and our neighbor may require using force against aggression.
And this brings me back to yesterday’s events. Christians believe that government has a special duty to punish those who, in effect, invaded our soil and committed these dastardly acts. But we must do so in a just manner.
As Augustine’s Just War theory teaches, any military action must have a reasonable chance of success. In our context, that means being fairly certain as to the identity of the perpetrators. We can’t simply strike out for the sake of “doing something” or in a blind rage.
We need to also make sure that our targets are military ones. Civilians, even those who applaud the terrorists’ actions, should never be targeted. Finally, our response should be proportionate. After an event such as yesterday’s, we are understandably tempted to lash out with every weapon in our arsenal. But we must be careful not to let our response to the harm we have suffered lead us to commit an even greater harm – something that our technological superiority makes possible.
But quickly respond we must, lest the world – and more importantly would-be terrorists – view us as a paper tiger. We either respond appropriately – with the sword – or invite more of the same.
I am sure that President Bush is weighing right now all the intelligence available to him to find out who is responsible, if any governments are involved, and how quickly the U.S. can retaliate. I have confidence in the President and Secretaries Rumsfeld and Powell. They and those who serve with them are competent leaders who find themselves in a time of tremendous crisis. I urge you to pray with me, for those who grieve and for our enemies, but especially for our leaders as they fulfill their awesome responsibility in this dark hour. May God help us.