After a natural disaster, we usually come together in a positive effort to mend the physical and emotional damage, but we are left with feelings of helplessness after an act of terrorism.
We try to cope with our fear, and we try to come up with some useful analysis of what led to the terrorism in the first place, but I must admit that my first reaction is often the hope that I can respond to terrorists by giving them a double portion of the same terror they gave us.
Fortunately, our culture has strongly indoctrinated us against the Old Testament adage of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but we have some hesitance to turning the other cheek in meek submission to brutality.
I suspect many of my fellow Americans share with me a concern about what we have done to invoke such hatred, and most of us believe we have not personally done anything to deserve such hatred and slaughter. It seems that every ethnic group feels that it is the favored of God and deserves to rule the world. Perhaps Rome lasted for a thousand years because it essentially said to weaker people, “Become a Roman with us and we will rule the world together.”
Still, I am told that the people of Carthage chose death over Roman domination — as did the Jews at Masada.
I sometimes have a fear that we take to the bargaining table an attitude that makes us sure losers because we want to trust all of our fellow humans to be peace-loving at heart.
I admire many men of the old Southern Confederacy, but Stonewall Jackson is not one of them. I would be a fool to deny his skill as a general; however, he seemed totally lacking in any kind of compassion for a fallen enemy.
When a Union soldier showed unusual gallantry in trying to rescue a wounded friend, Rebel soldiers approved of his courage and were reluctant to shot him, but they followed Jackson’s orders to kill the would-be rescuer.
It was a far call from some of the gallantry shown by both sides during the battle of Gettysburg. Jackson had a strange idea that loving his wife and daughter too much had angered God and caused God to take them from him. Where we get our ideas about God is certainly an interesting subject for speculation and investigation.
The kind of god that a person envisions as master of the universe tells us much more about the person than it does about God.
It may seem that I have drifted away from the topic of terrorism, but I contend otherwise. My childhood indoctrination told me never to let anybody bully me or scare me into meekness, so my first inclination is to summon every bit of violence I can muster in reaction to terrorism.
In the old saying, “I don’t get mad, I get even,” there is a chilling message. We all get mad but many of us funnel the madness into a sinister plan to get even — not just even with the perpetrator but with all his family and his kind. If we follow this script, we become terrorists ourselves.
So we surely need cool heads as we plan a coordinated response to what seems to be the terrorist plan to set us against each other and to cause us to destroy ourselves.
We can be as tough as Ulysses S. Grant, who kept us a united country with his unfailing vigor and his mercy for a fallen enemy.
I do not wish to offend those who think of Stonewall Jackson as a saint and Grant as a butcher, so please do not take umbrage from my comments. All of our heroes seem flawed in some ways. I believe we need heroes to whom we have assigned the virtues we admire.
Both Jackson and Grant were relentless fighters for what they believed. It amuses me to look at a picture of Grant with his family because it shows what a tiny man he actually was —proof that small men are often the most powerful among us.
TOBY HIGHTOWER is a retired educator and former Hopkinsville High School teacher. His email address is email@example.com. Write to him at 222 S. 25th St., Apartment 434, Terre Haute, IN. 47803.