The first words I wrote after the planes hit

I think I’ve told this story before, but to recap…

In 2001, the senior staff of The State — the heads of all the newspaper’s divisions (including news, advertising, circulation, HR, finance, production, marketing and of course, editorial) — met with the publisher ever Tuesday morning at 9. On Sept. 11, 2001, we had just sat down when someone from the newsroom came to the door seeking John Drescher, who was then our managing editor. John told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, then left the room.

We had it in our minds that it was a big story, and certainly John needed to get started on it, but we were picturing (at least I was) another confused amateur pilot in a Beechcraft or something. The WTC bombing of several years earlier crossed my mind, but I didn’t take it seriously yet.

It seemed we had just resumed the meeting when Drescher burst back in and told Executive Editor Mark Lett (News and editorial each had two editors who were on Senior Staff. The newsroom was represented by Lett and Drescher, while Associate Editor Warren Bolton joined me in representing editorial) that a second plane had hit the other tower.

Now we knew it was a coordinated attack  on the United States.

That was it. Meeting over. Everybody jumped up. A few of us huddled over by the window and discussed putting out an “Extra,” before moving on to putting together the regular paper for the next day. I asked whether they’d like a column from editorial, just to inject a bit of opinion into the special edition. They said “yes,” and I went to get to work.

The first job was to get some sort of sense of what was happened — I mean the total picture, not just the Twin Towers (which probably had not yet collapsed as I began). That wasn’t easy. A  lot was happening at once — the Pentagon getting hit, the Capitol evacuated, the president up in the air, somewhere. And then there were some the unconfirmed reports that later proved to be untrue — I don’t even remember the details of them now, some sorts of smaller incidents going on in the streets of Washington. Once they were discounted, I forgot them so my brain could process all the other stuff going on.

Once I turned to my keyboard, it took me about 20 minutes to write the following. That didn’t keep Drescher from sending up messages from the second floor: Where’s the copy? We’ve gotta go. Of course, all news really had to do is grab the stuff coming in and put it on a page. I had to think about what it meant, on the basis of alarmingly incomplete information, and write it.

So you might say this was written in even more of a hurry than a similar number of words on the blog, and amid great confusion and a certain amount of duress. You can read that in these words. There’s some emotion, and some thoughts, there that wouldn’t have been there a day later, or even a few hours later. Very stream-of-consciousness. I wince at some of it now. But it’s a real-time artifact, at least of what was going through my head that morning. See what you think:


State, The (Columbia, SC) – Tuesday, September 11, 2001
Author: BRAD WARTHEN, Editorial Page Editor
Sometime within the next 24 hours, no doubt, some television talking head somewhere will say, “This doesn’t happen here.”
Yes, it does. It has.
It’s happened before, in fact. It just wasn’t this close to home.
We remember Pearl Harbor. We’ll remember this, too.
The question is, what will we do about it?
Two nights ago, the nation delved back into its history with a celebrated media event, the premiere of the television version of Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers.”
We marvel at how a previous generation responded to an unprecedented crisis – a sudden attack by a ruthless, remorseless enemy. We think of those people as the “greatest generation,” and they deserve that appellation because of the way they came together to settle their own crisis and secure our future.
And we all wondered: Are we like them? Do we have it in us?
We’re about to find out.
We’re about to find out if we can snap out of shock, pull ourselves off the ground, set our petty differences aside, and come together as a nation to deal with our enemies.
For now, there is no question that we have enemies. And these enemies are in many ways different from Imperial Japan. In some ways, they are worse.
Pearl Harbor was an attack upon a distant outpost of American military power. The attack, as sudden and dishonest and vicious as it was, was at least an attack that made strategic sense in traditional military logic. And while there were civilian casualties, the obvious primary target was our fighting men and their machines of war.
This time, there is no pretense of such rudimentary “decency,” if you want to stretch so far as to call it that.
This time, civilians were the target every bit as much – if not more so – as our men and women in uniform.
This was a strike – and a temporarily successful one – at the chief power centers that have given this nation the strength to stand astride the world as its only superpower.
We are the world’s largest economy, so they struck, with devastating effect, at the very symbolic heart of that strength.
We are the undisputed military champion of the world, guarantor of security not only for this nation but for the rest of the globe. And this time they struck not just battleships and sailors, but the nerve center of our military colossus.
The greatest gift this nation has given the world is our form of democracy. And they have shut down and evacuated our Capitol and the White House. The home of the most powerful man in the world stands empty, surrounded by nervous men with automatic weapons and itchy trigger fingers.
The nation that gave the world flight is frozen, earthbound, at a standstill.
We are stunned. This attack has been devastatingly successful. We don’t know who did it, and we don’t know how much there is to come.
Our response will have to be different from the response after Pearl Harbor. This appears to be a different kind of enemy – the worst kind of coward. An enemy who strikes, and ducks and runs and hides.
How to prevail against such an enemy and restore peace and prosperity to the land is not immediately apparent.
But we will find a way. This is the same nation that was laid low 60 years ago, by an enemy who thought we lacked the will or the know-how to stop them. They were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.
We may not be the greatest generation, but we are their grandchildren. We are Americans. We are shocked, and we will mourn.
But then we’ll dust ourselves off, and find a way.

Later, I briefly attended a newsroom meeting in which they were talking about the next days paper (the only time I remember doing that during my years in editorial), and then turned to directing my own staff and writing stuff for the next day. I’ll show you that tomorrow.

31 thoughts on “The first words I wrote after the planes hit

  1. Lynn T

    I am no fan of Al Qaeda and certainly not of the 9-11 bombers, but really? “This appears to be a different kind of enemy – the worst kind of coward. An enemy who strikes, and ducks and runs and hides.” Actually, the 9-11 bombers intentionally gave their lives for what they believed in. They were horribly wrong, they were monstrously wrong, but the people who actually carried out the 9-11 attack were not cowards as you describe them. As to the Al Qaeda leadership — I don’t know of any army that puts its leadership out in front of the guns these days. We sure don’t.

    Further, I suspect the British used pretty much your words to condemn Francis Marion during the Revolution. They certainly could have, it describes his strategy quite well. Again, not approving for one milli-second of anything that the 9-11 terrorists did, but this “cowardice” accusation has never made any sense.

  2. Brad

    Lynn, we’ve all had those kinds of conversations in the days and years since then. But not in the first minutes after, 10 years ago. And that’s what I’m sharing with you here.

    I thought I’d give you something different from what you’re getting elsewhere today — all those memorials and commemorations that people had 10 years to think about. I’m giving you something raw here, something naturalistic — something that gives a small taste of what that moment actually was like.

    It was a certain way for you. This is how it was for me — or as much of it as I could share in 20 minutes, with no prior reflection, and zero discussion with anyone.

    Later in the day, I wrote something different. I’ll share that tomorrow.

  3. Herb Brasher

    No, I get your point, Brad. No need to employ the cynicism.

    It just doesn’t grab me like it grabs you, I think. We’re all different, and our personal history makes us different. I spent a lot of years talking again and again to Europeans who had been through the h of WWII, the firebombing of Dresden, etc., and lost everything and everyone in the process. I got to have deeply personal relationships with a generation that had to flee East Prussia in horse carts, trying desperately to get out of the way of Russian armies. That grabbed me, because it was a time and place that I hadn’t experienced, but wanted to know what it was like at that moment for those who did.

    If you had written about that–it would have meant more to me, but ten years ago here in the U.S. is not the same for me–it’s too recent, and I was there, too. Maybe it’s because I didn’t lose loved ones in NYC. But I don’t think that really has anything to do with Lynn’s point, though.

    Besides, you may remember that we had a major disagreement before re the mindset of people in other cultures, including the terrorist mindset, and we still most definitely disagree on that–but I got in trouble for saying so.

  4. Nick Nielsen

    For what it’s worth, Brad, I liked it.

    I (and my students) watched events unfold on my classroom television from shortly before the second aircraft struck.

    I told them this would be their Pearl Harbor or JFK, the thing they would remember for the rest of their lives where they were when it happened. They looked at me like I was nuts.

  5. JoanneH

    I too appreciate it, Brad. And I agree the terrorists were cowards. It reminded me of this line from Pygmalion:

    “There’s only one way of escaping trouble; and that’s killing things. Cowards, you notice, are always shrieking to have troublesome people killed.”

  6. Bart

    At first, I was not going to respond to Lynn T or Herb Brasher’s comments. We have the right to express our opinions according to our belief system as we see fit. That is the beauty of our democracy. In turn, I have the right to express mine as well and they do not agree with either Lynn’s or Herb’s. In my opinion and belief, the 9-11 terrorists are cowards and to me, always will be.

    To equate Francis Marion vs. the British army to Muslim terrorists vs. the Twin Towers occupied by civilians to me is a discredit to Francis Marion’s contribution to the founding of this country. Marion attacked British troops, not British civilians nor did he slaughter them with impunity the same way terrorist cowards slaughtered almost 3,000 civilians on 9-11-2001. Marion was not waging an ideological religious war; he was waging a war for freedom and used the best military tactics available against a superior military force. If you want to stretch the point and include the pentagon in your comparison, that may have some merit, if only to a very minor degree.

    To equate the terrorists with bravery because they were willing to sacrifice their lives for a cause is the same as saying the hooded terrorists of the KKK were brave as well. They committed their heinous acts of racial terrorism under the guise of personal freedom against a race of people they considered less human than they were. They struck in the night against a defenseless people who had done nothing wrong except have the “wrong color of skin”. The Muslim terrorists committed and still commit acts of terror against civilians because of religious teachings from a radical element who believe their religion is superior and the only one acceptable in their world, fearing a lessening of the importance of their religion.

    If you want to equate a brave fighter who is willing to give his or her life on the battlefield facing the enemy head on to a coward, no matter what side one is on, then criticism of the use of the word coward would be applicable. But, if you wish to equate a terrorist of any stripe as anything other than a coward, again, that is your choice but I would suspect your opinion is in the vast minority.

    And, to add to the conversation, one of my oldest and closest friends/acquaintances is a survivor of a Hitler death camp. He was rescued just before being marched into a gas chamber. He went through the difficulties of hunger, poverty, and living without hope until he was able to immigrate to America. Yet, he was able to overcome and prosper in America and was able to survive the efforts of cowards in uniforms who preyed upon defenseless Jews and civilian populations. He and I spent a lot of time in conversation as I have with others over the years that either escaped or survived the hellish years under Hitler. I think my friend recognizes the face of a cowardly terrorist when he sees one.

  7. Herb Brasher

    Lynn’s point is that they didn’t just shriek, they gave their lives for their cause. I agree with Lynn that this is not cowardice.

    It was murderous evil that destroyed the lives and future of many people, and it was based on the false hope of a utopia on earth and paradise for ‘martyrs.’

    It was religious zealotry of the kind expressed centuries ago by Saul of Tarsus, recorded in the New Testament, in the book of Acts 26:9-11.

    But I don’t think it should be called cowardice.

  8. Herb Brasher

    I got into trouble with Brad on this before, who has no patience whatsoever for the mind of a terrorist, and now Bart says I am in a minority–I suspect that he means a lunatic fringe minority, though he doesn’t say that. That’s OK, I don’t mind being in the minority.

    I also don’t see how Bart’s reference to Holocaust victims or the KKK apply here.

    Again, what was done was evil. The moreso, because it was done not ‘on the battlefield,’ but indiscriminately to non-combatants. But where did they learn this? Didn’t the Allies decide that it was OK to drop incendiary bombs on German cities, in order to achieve the purpose, supposedly, of weakening German military morale? I wonder if, in the minds of these men, it was not the logical extension of 20th century battlefield definitions that changed all the rules of modern warfare.

    I spend some time in foreign countries each year, most of them not your usual tourist destinations. I’ve been in taxis where Osama’s picture is up on the dashboard; he was the hero of millions of people, because, in part, he stood up to what in their minds is the ‘menace of Western immorality and pollution’ with the only weapons at his disposal.

    Sorry, but I can’t just agree with the majority here. Call it anything you want, but not cowardice.

  9. Brad

    Herb, you never get in trouble with me.

    Folks, I don’t want to have this argument again, but just to define terms:

    I do fully understand your point that people who are willing to give their lives for a cause are not cowardly. I get it. I just don’t agree.

    For me it’s not about what happens to the hijackers. On a certain level, I do wish they had survived to face justice, but mostly I don’t care what happened to them. They have ZERO respect from me, and their deaths don’t impress me. I care about their victims.

    And there is where the assertion about cowardice comes from. It’s about their choice of target. I despise terrorists because they deliberately, as a matter of strategy, go for the softest, most defenseless targets of all.

    Note that I was comparing them to the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941. They, too, thought they had good reason to attack. I disagree, but I could certainly see their position, if I look at it from their frame of reference.

    What did they do? They attacked the strongest military in the world, head-on. Yeah, they did it in a sneak attack, and there was a lot of dastardly quality to that. But they attacked people who at least had some capacity to defend themselves.

    To compare — bin Laden’s beef with the U.S. was the presence of American military in Saudi Arabia. So he could have attacked those forces — as he (sort of) did with the USS Cole and Khobar Towers. But that didn’t seem to be working for him. So he shifted to sending a bunch of poor suckers to kill thousands of innocent civilians.

    Do you see my point?

  10. Herb Brasher

    I see your point, I just think that your response is eloquent, but ultimately simplistic. Maybe some of it is the fact that ever since I’ve been subjected to a lot of flag-waving in our churches, without much global perspective.

    At the risk of opening an old can of worms, as you’ve already said, and in the context of a national day of mourning at that, I’d like to respond with the words of Bishop Willimon, presiding bishop fo the North Alabama conference of the United Methodist church:

    “On 9/11 I thought, ‘For the most powerful, militarized nation in the world also to think of itself as an innocent victim is deadly.’ It was a rare prophetic moment for me, considering Presidents Bush and Obama have spent billions asking the military to rectify the crime of a small band of lawless individuals, destroying a couple of nations who had little to do with it, in the costliest, longest series of wars in the history of the United States.

    The silence of most Christians and the giddy enthusiasm of a few, as well as the ubiquity of flags and patriotic extravaganzas in allegedly evangelical churches, says to me that American Christians may look back upon our response to 9/11 as our greatest Christological defeat. It was shattering to admit that we had lost the theological means to distinguish between the United States and the kingdom of God. The criminals who perpetrated 9/11 and the flag-waving boosters of our almost exclusively martial response were of one mind: that the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid. All of us preachers share the same; when our people felt very vulnerable, they reached for the flag, not the Cross.

    September 11 has changed me. I’m going to preach as never before about Christ crucified as the answer to the question of what’s wrong with the world. I have also resolved to relentlessly reiterate from the pulpit that the worst day in history was not a Tuesday in New York, but a Friday in Jerusalem when a consortium of clergy and politicians colluded to run the world on our own terms by crucifying God’s own Son.”

    I pretty much agree with Bishop Willimon. We lost just over 2000 citizens on 9/11. We proceeded, in Allied bombing fashion, to unload terror and bombs on hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq. 100,000 Christians had to flee their homes in Iraq in the process, and had their years of relative religious freedom under the dictatorship of Saddam ended forever.

    We don’t have white hats. I’m not sure we should talk as if we do, either.

  11. Brad

    Actually, Herb, I think Bishop Willimon’s view is the “simplistic” one. Misleadingly so. I’m afraid we’re just going to have to disagree. But that’s one of the purposes of the blog.

    On a side note… where does that “worst day in history” stuff come from? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before. I did, a day or two ago, see a reference to 9/11 being the worst day in American history (which is debatable), but that was the first time I’d heard that, and this is definitely the first time I’ve heard this, which is really outlandish.

    Anyway, it’s a straw man argument, and the rest of what he says is consistent with that approach.

  12. Doug Ross

    What is the “straw man” argument?

    The U.S. killed far more innocent people in the past decade than were killed on 9/11. Can you seriously dispute that?

    It is completely illogical to claim to be a Christian AND support any war. And it is borderline delusional to attribute any special Christian blessings on the United States as a country. Jesus Christ doesn’t care where you live or what pin you wear on you lapel.

  13. Bart


    I never intended to imply you are on the lunatic fringe. If that is your take, so be it. On you, not me.

    As for the other references, I think they make perfect sense. In each case, innocent civilians were terrorized, slaughtered, and minimized by people who thought they were brave, heroic, and doing the right thing according to their twisted, cowardly philosophy and/or religious convictions.

    The references to German cities bombed during WWII makes no sense either. They were done during a declared war and the cities in question were centers and locations for weapons plants and bomb factories.

    We might not have white hats but does that give Bin Laden and his ilk the right, yea even to the point of being referred to as brave, to slaughter almost 3,000 of our civilians?

    Agree with Brad. Agree to disagree with you. Last comment. I hate war with a passion because it does nothing but reduce humans to their baser survival instincts.

    Wars dehumanizes society in general because the idea is to inflict as much death, destruction, and harm on the enemy as possible. There is no such thing as a friendly war. However, this is part of the human experience and something we must deal with. As pointed out in the Bible in Matthew 24:6, King James version – ” And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”

    The passage is not an approval of war but recognition of the state of man and the evil he is capable of committing.

    Peace be with you.

  14. Doug Ross


    Can you find a biblical reference that supports Christians PARTICIPATING in war as opposed to recognizing that wars happen?

    Seems to me that passage is a clear message to stay out of wars.

  15. Bart


    First of all, I am not a biblical scholar nor do I pretend to be. When I use biblical verses or references, I do so using my core beliefs and make no demands or expect of anyone else but to do what their own conscience and belief system dictates. I try not to cherry pick verses and use them in the wrong way to make a point. In my humble estimation, the Bible is to be taken as a whole, not bits and pieces.

    With that said, the following is one answer to your inquiry.

    “Romans 13:1–4 Submission to the Authorities

    1. Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
    2. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
    3. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,
    4. for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

    Suffice it to say, it can be interpreted in more than one way but if a nation is attacked by evil doers, I believe the nation is justified and so are Christians in going to war. There is some confusion about one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not kill”. The word “kill” in ancient Hebrew meant “murder” or taking a life out of an act of anger or vengeance, willfully taking of another life with premeditation, malice.

    Naturally, the argument can be made that arming a soldier, training him or her in the military arts is premeditation in itself. Ultimately, a soldier’s training, if used in combat situations, will result in the death of another human being. What needs to be clarified is the situation in which the soldier takes the life of another human. If the soldier takes a life in the heat of combat, in self-defense or defense of others, that is one thing; if a soldier shoots a defenseless adversary out of anger or the desire to take a life, that could be considered murder and not in keeping with a justified action against an enemy.

    It would be great if all nations could beat their swords into ploughshares and wage war no more. However, we know that is not possible because of the nature of man.

  16. Bart

    “It is completely illogical to claim to be a Christian AND support any war. And it is borderline delusional to attribute any special Christian blessings on the United States as a country. Jesus Christ doesn’t care where you live or what pin you wear on you lapel.”


    Understand your comment but will have to strongly disagree with it. Almost every war this country has been involved in has been justified and in my estimation, has been on the side of good, not evil. However, there are questionable involvements and they could come under the heading of “not minding our own business”. I do support the actions taken in WWII wholeheartedly. The world was under attack from one of most evil men to ever live and it was the duty of Christians and everyone else to defend the world against this man and his evil. Maybe if Christians had stood up against Stalin, millions and millions of Russians wouldn’t have been slaughtered. The events in history are many where evil prevailed and Christians stood idly by.

    As for being borderline delusional, I guess I will have to claim Herb’s position and say I am as described. I firmly believe that God’s blessings were upon America as a nation, because at one time, we did place God at the head, not at the foot. Now that He has been placed at the foot, we are seeing it all fall apart, bit by bit, and day by day.

    I understand and accept the fact that many on this blog will not agree but that is fine with me. I have to live my life, you have to life yours.

  17. Herb Brasher

    Almost every war this country has been involved in has been justified

    I disagree very much. President Polk provoked the Mexican war, convinced as he was of ‘manifest destiny’ (using the label later given to the idea), which is basically that the white man is born to rule, the black man and Mexican are born to serve. The goal was territorial expansion of the U.S. The basis was a spirit of adventure, but influenced strongly by greed and racism.

    The wars perpetrated by the U.S. on the native American population were largely genocide, and in no way ‘defensive’ nor justifiable. Our entry into WWI was maybe justified in some sense, though the reasons for the European powers beginning that war were absolutely lunatic. Extreme isolationism, coupled with unjustifiable reparations from Germany caused WWII–in some senses it was the ’30 years war’ of the 20th century, for it never really ended after WWI.

    I think there is also a good case for saying that the Revolutionary War had no Christian base. Bart quotes Scripture about obedience to the authorities and paying taxes. The war against Britain was not justifiable under any of these premises.

    In WWII, we firebombed German cities like Dresden, which we knew were filled with thousands of refugees and art treasures. The reason was pure revenge; those bombings had nothing to do with ‘defense.’ There was virtually no industry in Dresden, nor in several other German cities. And in general, WWII bombers lacked any sort of precision bombing. They just bombed the whole city, period.

    It is the European and North-American powers who taught the world the 20th century art of warfare against civilians as a tactic of wearing down morale (which it admittedly has generally not accomplished) and pure revenge. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were perhaps justified in some sense, especially in the context of the times, but they opened a can of worms that we we will have to deal with for many years to come.

    I believe that my fellow evangelicals tend to base their ideas on a revisionist view of U.S. history. Mythical ideas become easy slogans that do not take into account the many streams of influence that were brought to bear upon our country’s founding and development. It is true that Christianity has had some positive influence on our country, but to say this is simplistic to a degree. Atheists contributed in a positive way, too, disgusted as they were with their homeland established churches’ dictation on how they should live. But there were many other streams of influence, such as extreme individualism, and such were and are more or less varied forms of selfishness.

    For these reasons, I understand both Brad and Bart’s justification of U.S. wars as simplistic. They do not take into account the negative aspects of colonialism that we bought into and de facto extended.

    And, back to the original point, I still believe Lynn is right. The actions of terrorists are evil, but they should not be described with the term ‘cowardice,’ when they sacrifice themselves for their cause. We call it ‘cowardice,’ because we want to use language that expresses our disgust and hate for them as human beings. In doing so, we not only lack precision in our language, but we set ourselves up as the Righteous ones and ultimate Judge.

  18. Doug Ross


    But shouldn’t the Jews have submitted to the authority of Hitler, then? Or the Iraqis to the authority of Saddaam? Or the patriots to British rule?

    God doesn’t play sides in trivial political wars. We aren’t judged as a nation but as individuals. We are told explicitly in the bible to love our enemies. That can’t be done by dropping bombs on them.

  19. Mark Stewart

    There hasn’t been a war at any point in human history where all sides did not claim that God – or the god(s) – was on their side.

    That’s just human nature. As is violent nation-building.

    This is one of the areas where religious belief (practice) often falls far short of the ethical behavior we all know to be right/wrong. Religion has too often given cover to not entirely pure human impulses.

  20. Brad

    Two quick points: Mark, never say never. Remember the atheist state of the Soviet Union, which fought pretty hard in the Great Patriotic War. If anyone in the Red Army said God was on his side, he’d be courting a bullet in the head from his own side.

    And Herb: I don’t know what it’s going to take to convince you that I do NOT approach anything in a “simplistic” manner. I take everything into consideration. And then I take a position, and I take if very strongly, and people THINK I must be looking at it simplistically to be so sure.

    But the thing is, I’m constantly taking in more information, and reassessing. It’s kind of maddening, if you’ve ever worked on a project with me. I’m the guy who, at the 11th hour, because of another piece or two of data that’s come in late, say, “Wait a minute. Let’s start over.” Infuriates everybody.

    As I’ve written before, the first quotation I chose for my Facebook page was from Catch-22: “I wouldn’t want to live without strong misgivings. Right, Chaplain?

    That’s me all over. What fools people is that when I pick a direction, I’ve been through the mill with the subject (usually having thought about the matter in one way or another for years and years), and I march forcefully in that direction. (It’s also a matter of my writing style. I have little patience with vagueness.)

  21. Herb Brasher


    I’m not sure that we’re talking about the same thing now. I was taking issue with your statement that Bishop Willimon’s position is simplistic.

    I don’t think it is. For one thing, I don’t think he is advocating a pacifist position. Philip Yancey (whom I also quoted on the next thread) states it somewhat more precisely with when he writes,

    “I believe that we must pursue justice. Yet a Christian history stained by anti-Semitism–holding an entire people responsible for the actions of a few–teaches us the terrible consequences of not following Jesus’ way.”

    He precedes this with:

    “. . . the decade since 9/11 has taught us the limits of force. Imposing democracy on Iraq and Afganistan has come at a terrible cost to all parties, with no guarantee of long-term success.”

    In other words, I am saying that both Willimon and Yancey’s statements express the complexity of how I should view this tragedy as a Christian. Your views don’t do that for me as much. They are more neat and tidy–you have more trust in the military to take only justifiably defensive action, and even to do nation building. I have my doubts, especially about the latter, but I will concede that this is complex, too.

    I appreciated your column on 9/11, and still do. But I simply agree with Lynn, and I think that the word ‘cowardly’ is overreaching. Given the short notice on that terrible day, it is understandable that you used this word, but, especially seen from a longer perspective, I do not think it applies, and as you’ve already said, we disagree on that.

  22. Herb Brasher


    I’m not sure that President Polk was invoking God’s name in what he did; I think he, along with many other leaders of our history, left his Christianity at church when it came to political decisions.

    It is, admittedly, very hard not to do that. After all, politics is about power over people. It is a rare individual who has the character and fortitude to have power, and still be a public servant, and they usually don’t get to serve very long.

  23. Bart

    “But shouldn’t the Jews have submitted to the authority of Hitler, then? Or the Iraqis to the authority of Saddaam? Or the patriots to British rule?” – Doug

    The Jews did submit to the authority of Hitler and because of their submission, over 8 million were murdered. They complied with orders to be herded into cattle cars and shipped off to concentration camps. The Iraqis did submit to the authority of Saddam. He killed tens of thousands of his own people.

    My position, convictions, and beliefs have been stated and I hold to them, whether you consider them simplistic or not. Part of my professional life was spent as an analyst, studying and evaluating operating systems, making recommendations for improvements, and understanding how everything works together, interconnects. One important lesson I learned was elequently said in “The Deer Hunter” by DeNiro’s character. “This is this, it ain’t something else, this is this”.

    After this exchange, I do wonder what would have become of this nation if Doug and Herb would have been responsible for making the final decision when the time come for America to enter WWII or not.

    Quite frankly, after reading their responses, the image of the world we would be living in frightens me. According to what they have been posting, both would have decided against entering WWII.

    I will leave this exchange with verses from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8,
    “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven ~
    2 A time to give birth, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted.
    3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to tear down, and a time to build up.
    4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
    5 A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing.
    6 A time to search, and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep, and a time to throw away.
    7 A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together; A time to be silent, and a time to speak.
    8 A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace.

    For now, for me, it is a time to be silent and a time for peace. I have nothing more to add to this conversation. No one will be influenced to change their minds on the subject.

  24. Bart

    Never let it be said that I cannot change my mind on a subject given the right circumstances. After thinking about it last night, I offer the following.

    The definition of coward has many synonyms and antonyms. Among the antonyms are the following: hero, valiant, stalwart. Valiant may be the right word to describe the terrorists of 9-11. “Possessing or acting with braveness or boldness” might be the most accurate definition of these men, dedicated to their religion and convictions.

    So, with all due humility, I stand corrected by Lynn and Herb and admit, they were not cowards. And, with the same humility, I would like to offer an apology to the cowards of the world for daring to include them in the same classification of humans as I did with the “valiant” men who hijacked the planes on 9-11.

  25. Doug Ross

    “Quite frankly, after reading their responses, the image of the world we would be living in frightens me. According to what they have been posting, both would have decided against entering WWII. ”

    And it would have turned out exactly how God wanted it to turn out if you believe the Bible. You may think your reasoning ability is super sharp based on looking at operating systems. I’m sure God is impressed with your ability to figure things out…

  26. Herb Brasher

    Bart, maybe I just don’t get it, but I can’t see where you define your position as to a ‘just’ war. You only say if we are ‘attacked.’ There have been many wars in which the U.S. has been involved in which we were not ‘attacked,’ I mentioned several. For that, your only answer is that our nation would be in a terrible condition if we had not been involved. Maybe 58,000 American men might still be alive if we hadn’t tried to prop up a ‘democratic’ regime in South Vietnam? That’s a terrible condition?

    Interesting that you comment on the Iraqis and Saddam, and the Jews and Nazi Germany, but do not comment on the patriots and Britain. Were we attacked by Great Britain? Well, I suppose we were if taxation is considered an ‘attack,’ but I can’t see that we were ‘attacked.’

    My take on war is that each situation needs to be considered on it’s own, and not all lumped together, as if every war is a war is a war.

    I did quote Yancey about doing justice. And Brad has mentioned before the concept of a ‘just’ war. I can accept this, but even a just war does not give license to any kind of treatment of the enemy. Firebombing a city full of refugees as a revenge act certainly does not fall under the category of justice, as far as I can see.

    Entry into WWII was necessary, yes. Of course, it probably would not have been if the U.S. and European powers had not torpedoed both Wilson’s aims, and the Weimar Republic with impossible reparations. And it still would not have been necessary, if Britain had not followed appeasement. Churchill, unfortunately, had made a fool of himself too often, and when he rightfully cried wolf in the later 30’s, he went unheeded.

    So when it comes to Iran, I fear a similar thing might happen. Having intervened unilaterally and perhaps even unnecessarily in some situations, we then find ourselves over-extended, or unable or unwilling to intervene when it is really necessary.

    I guess I have less faith in the military to correct situations and to establish democracy than you and Brad do.

  27. Bart

    “And it would have turned out exactly how God wanted it to turn out if you believe the Bible. You may think your reasoning ability is super sharp based on looking at operating systems. I’m sure God is impressed with your ability to figure things out…”

    Well, I do believe in the Bible and if God is impressed with my ability to figure things out, then I have the approval of the only One whose opinion actually matters…. 🙂


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