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A Quiet Resolve 10 Years On (September 11, 2011) – 1240 Peace Portal Drive – Blaine, WA

A Meditation on Lightness and Darkness

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I came across this passage the day after hearing that Osama bin Laden had been executed in a rather spectacular commando raid:

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since then I been mulling over why I had such a visceral and negative reaction to it. At last, I am now able to express, just a portion, of why this quote made me feel that my sense of what is fair and just was being smugly dismissed. Let’s be clear: I am damn satisfied, even glad, that bin Laden was finally executed after a 10 year manhunt.

I don’t like anything about this passage, not even the commas, because it implies that my anger over September 11, 2001 is a blood lust. I would much prefer that bin Laden was still alive because that would mean 3000 people would not have been crushed to death, burned alive, or slammed head first into a sidewalk after leaping to their death hundreds of feet below. We can only imagine the terror they all felt while waiting, knowing, that the light of their lives was about to extinguished and be forever made dark.

I don’t rejoice, not even for a moment, about any of this but I am damn relieved he was executed for his actions. Some acts are so evil that they must be challenged without exception. If this is seen as retribution, so be it. Further, I certainly cannot let stand without challenge the implication, that because of my sense of satisfaction that I am somehow metaphorically, adding to the darkness and subtracting from the light. This clearly lumps me in with him, an assertion that is utterly and profoundly absurd. I reject this notion in the strongest terms possible.

To use another tired metaphor, fire, full of violence and destruction, is also cleansing. I only need to point to the total destruction of Europe in World War II. That was one of the darkest periods in human history and the violence of total war cleansed the world of one of the blackest and purest sources of evil ever to exist. If you doubt this assertion even for a moment, I would ask you to find the nearest person of European Jewish decent and go give him or her a hug. If Hitler had not been challenged you would not be able to do that. Further, unless willful denial is in play, I fail to see how anyone could assert that a healthy dose of anger, and yes, even hatred, was not a necessary component of the effort that preserved Europe for its current bright and free existence. The alternative world where Hitler would have prevailed is beyond grim.

Sometimes violence serves a moral and just purpose and is not simply returning hate for hate’s sake. Now, tell me, where do lightness and darkness, hatred and love, war and peace, begin and end? It should be obvious that fire can drive out darkness when yielded carefully. To make sure we are clear here, I don’t think bin Laden remotely rose to the level of the great murderers of the 20th century: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. He was a mere amateur when deeds and outcomes are compared.

Still he made a point to declare war, a rather legal and technical state of affairs, on the United States of America and then act upon that declaration. And more germane to the current situation is he never terminated that state by concluding a peace treaty. Frankly he made himself a fair and valid target as the head of al-Qaeda when he declared war. A far more valid target than the innocent and quite international community he repeatedly attacked and murdered in New York, London, and Madrid to name a few. To claim that pacifism and love is the answer to such evil is simply idealism at its most naive.

As for a night sky full of endless darkness – I see a sky full of fiery stars illuminating my sense of awe at the mystery of life and potential of a brilliant morning. If you doubt this all I would ask you to do is to spend a night out in a rural place and see first hand how bright our universe is and then face east as the sun rises in the sky. Sometimes all it takes to get through the darkness is to hold onto hope, faith and the comfort that comes from knowing that the bogyman just got his ass kicked.

A few notes 16 months later:

The quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. that I cited in this essay was used by a younger person on a social media web to assail the retribution delivered to Osama bin Laden during the night of May 2, 2011.

Soon after the original was posted the response comments quickly followed and soon a long list of very predictable replies were posted that displayed a great deal of smug superiority in opposition to this use of force, how brave they all were for stating these views, that America is an evil empire, how much they disliked and blamed Re-Puke-Licans for 9/11, and that killing Osama bin Laden was exactly the same as murder. To say I found my becoming increasingly irritated by the haughtiness and the complete lack of historical perspective on display is an understatement.

Then a few days later the news broke that the quote was a complete fabrication. A fake. A lie. After finding, this out I went back to this web page to see if any further comments or honest reassessment had been posted referencing this new information. The answer sadly is nothing. One of the downsides to belief is that it does not like to be destabilized.

The actual Martin Luther King, Jr. quote is from “Loving Your Enemies” (source: Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute):

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

I have no problem with his thinking, in fact, I agree with him. I also have a keen sense that holding love, as the center of your life, does not translate into a demand that one must passively acquiesces to any evil that comes along. Love is not a suicide pact. And justice is a very different thing than murder.

With this in mind, I drafted this essay which I am now finally publishing.

Copyright 2012 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved.