Evil and good

“We will rid the world of evil-doers.” —George W. Bush

They are evil and we are good. God is with us, while Satan himself was the force that steered the airplanes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center. And now is the time for the great battle, when American armies launch the glorious final crusade to rid the world of this evil.

This is the frighteningly simplistic view of last week’s tragedy that has taken root in America, a seed planted by our commander-in-chief, fed by our unbearable grief and righteous anger, and tended by those who see the United States as God’s last great empire on earth. But that could be precisely what we’ll become if we don’t come to our senses.

What is evil? Certainly, the massacre of thousands of innocent people, a deliberate act planned out years in advance, must be considered an act of “unspeakable evil,” as the president said. Even if you believe we have earned our enemies’ hatred, nothing can justify this act.

But does this evil act mean all those who hate our country are evil? Do slaughtering the indigenous population of this continent, unleashing the horror of nuclear annihilation upon Hiroshima or carpet-bombing the civilian populations of Vietnam and Cambodia—all arguably evil acts—make Americans evil?

The ugly reality is that both Americans and those who hate us are capable of evil acts. And those acts become much easier to commit when we reduce our enemies to sub-human caricatures of “evil,” and elevate ourselves to the embodiment of “good.”

Most Americans struggle to comprehend how anyone could possibly plot the murder of more than 5,000 innocent Americans. How could they do this? It is the line of thinking that leads us to the natural conclusion that they must be fundamentally different from us. They must be evil.

Yet to the men who carried out this terrible act, we were the Great Satan. To them, they were good and we were evil. It must have seemed unfathomable that our country could openly support the massacre of innocent Palestinians or that our bombs and blockades could kill innocent Iraqis, Cubans, Vietnamese, Sudanese, Serbs, Libyans and the long list of others who have felt our wrath.

In the fight against evil, no blow is too severe, no act unspeakable. Yet turning our legitimate desire for justice into a battle against evil could compound this tragedy with more innocent lives, feeling as we do the evil that was injected into our hearts on September 11.

If we truly consider ourselves good, then let us be good. If we are to rid the world of evil, let us show our strength by finding a way to dispose of this evil without unleashing it upon the world.