the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

Photo of David CortrightCortright: Seek relationship, not revenge

by David Cortright, assistant professor of peace, justice and conflict studies

GC felt the impact of the planes that slammed into the twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center and a wing of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and crashed in Pennsylvania on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Students and employees lost friends and family in the attacks. Through the shock and mourning, GC sprang to action, remembering those suffering and rallying for reconciliation rather than revenge.

The images of planes striking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are indelibly marked in our consciousness. No words can express the enormity of the loss this nation has experienced and the horror we witnessed. We feel a natural instinct of revulsion, anger and bewilderment. We want to stamp out this monstrous evil.

We want revenge. But revenge is a desire we must resist.

Certainly nothing can justify these vicious attacks, or excuse the horrific actions that have left thousands of innocents dead and injured and their friends and families devastated. Our first actions must be to ameliorate the suffering and console those who have lost loved ones and are in pain.

But it is important for us to try to discern what could have prompted human beings to plot and carry out such gigantic crimes against humanity. How could people have such anger and violent resentment toward our nation? What beliefs or motivations led these people to sacrifice their lives and the lives of so many others?
President Bush has called for punishing those responsible. Commentators have suggested the possibility of military attack. One overnight poll reported 90 percent of those polled willing to support the use of military force to strike back.

I hope we as a nation will understand how much sympathy and support we have all over the world for bringing these criminals to justice using the tools available to track them down. Our country has opposed the idea of an International Criminal Court, but we could use the court to mobilize the United Nations and the international community to track down and imprison those responsible for the destruction in New York and Washington, D.C.

A multilateral, cooperative international response to this crime would be far superior to a unilateral military strike. Unilateral military action would only inflame anti-American hatred and sow the seeds of new, horrendous attacks in the future.

Terrorists have given us a stark vision of the kind of violent world they believe in. We must deny them the victory that they seek. We must resist the fears and the forces within us - the insecurities and vulnerabilities - that would have us respond with more violence.
The action-reaction cycle, as exhibited most obviously in Israel and Palestine, leads only to more destruction. Martin Luther King said the policy of an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Christ's vision of pacifism and nonresistance is clearly defined by our Anabaptist ideals.

Our best security is not through more military force or greater defenses, but to turn those who view us as enemies into friends. Our greatest protection is in cooperation and friendship with other peoples all over the world.

We can build understanding and cooperation by asserting a vision of community, by promoting tolerance, compassion, justice and respect for the sacredness of all life while seeking to understand and heal the wounds behind this tragedy.

Let us vow here and now, as individuals, as a community, as a nation and as a world, that we will renounce all violent solutions; that we will strive for understanding and reconciliation; that we will uphold international law and the United Nations; and that we will strive for a genuine solution of nonviolence and reconciliation as we seek justice for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Adapted from an address at an all-school convocation Sept. 12 by David Cortright, assistant professor of peace, justice and conflict studies at Goshen College and president of Fourth Freedom Forum, Inc., Goshen.