I think we must be careful about too easily accepting, or being too easily grateful for, sacrifices made by others, especially if we have made none ourselves.
What could be more absurd, to begin with, than our attitude of high moral outrage against other nations for manufacturing the selfsame weapons that we manufacture? The difference, as our leaders say, is that we will use these weapons virtuously, whereas our enemies will use them maliciously a proposition that too readily conforms to a proposition of much less dignity: we will use them in our interest, whereas our enemies will use them in theirs.
Violence breeds violence. Acts of violence committed in justice or in affirmation of rights or in defense of peace do not end violence. They prepare and justify its continuation.
Our century of war, militarism, and political terror has produced great and successful advocates of true peace, among whom Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are the paramount examples. The considerable success that they achieved testifies to the presence, in the midst of violence, of an authentic and powerful desire for peace and, more important, of the proven will to make the necessary sacrifices.
In a modern war, fought with modern weapons and on the modern scale, neither side can limit to the enemy the damage that it does. These wars damage the world. We know enough by now to know that you cannot damage a part of the world without damaging all of it. Modern war has not only made it impossible to kill combatants without killing noncombatants, it has made it impossible to damage your enemy without damaging yourself.
National defense through war always involves some degree of national defeat. This paradox has been with us from the very beginning of our republic. Militarization in defense of freedom reduces the freedom of the defenders. There is a fundamental inconsistency between war and freedom.
If you know even as little history as I do, it is hard not to doubt the efficacy of modern war as a solution to any problem except that of retribution the justice of exchanging one damage for another.
On eroding, ecologically degraded, increasingly toxic landscapes, worked by failing or subsidy-dependent farmers and by the cheap labor of migrants, we have erected the tottering tower of "agribusiness," which prospers and "feeds the world" (incompletely and temporarily) by undermining its own foundations.
Our Constitution, by its separation of powers and its system of checks and balances, acts as a restraint upon efficiency by denying exclusive power to any branch of government. The logic of governmental efficiency, unchecked, runs straight on, not only to dictatorship, but also to torture, assassination, and other abominations.
We cannot hope to be secure when our government has declared, by its readiness "to act alone," its willingness to be everybody's enemy.
One cannot reduce terror by holding over the world the threat of what it most fears.
Much of the obscurity of our effort so far against terrorism originates in the now official idea that the enemy is evil and that we are (therefore) good, which is the precise mirror image of the official idea of the terrorists.
To imply by the word "terrorism" that this sort of terror is the work exclusively of "terrorists" is misleading. The "legitimate" warfare of technologically advanced nations likewise is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents. The distinction between the intention to perpetrate violence against innocents, as in "terrorism," and the willingness to do so, as in "war," is not a source of comfort.
We are alive within mystery, by miracle. "Life," wrote Erwin Chargaff, "is the continual intervention of the inexplicable." We have more than we can know. We know more than we can say. The constructions of language (which is to say the constructions of thought) are formed within experience, not the other way around. Finally we live beyond words, as also we live beyond computation and beyond theory. There is no reason whatever to assume that the languages of science are less limited than other languages.
We know enough of our own history by now to be aware that people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love. To defend what we love we need a particularizing language, for we love what we particularly know.