What are You Willing to Die For?

I am going to break one of my “rules” for this blog and write about a global issue rather than a local one, but it is something that touches all of us. Today the threat of terrorism hit the front pages again, and everyone is all abuzz. Just to show that there is some personal connection here, I will say that my mother is scheduled to fly into Wausau this weekend. Ironically, she was also scheduled to fly here on September 13th, 2001 — a trip that was obviously postponed. I understand fear. But we are supposed to be the “home of the brave.”

It seems to me that most people that don’t yet understand that “terrorism” is not actually about killing people. Yes, people die in terror strikes, but killing those poor people who happened to be at “ground zero” is not the point. Terrorism is about fear. It is about a people being so afraid that they change the way they do things. so afraid that they will do anything to “get back to normal,” including giving into the terrorists demands. There is no “terrorist” group on the earth that is so big and so well organized that it can kill as many people as the government of the smallest, weakest country in the world. In fact, terrorists, probably can’t even begin to kill as many people as drunk drivers do in the United States alone.

It is all about fear, and fear alone.

The last time we had a real leader in the White House, he said, “The only thing we have to fear — is fear itself!” Prophetic words for these troubled time. It seems to me that when we allow ourselves to be stripped searched before boarding an airplane, the terrorists are “winning.” When we rush to war to “root out terrorism” and find ourselves trapped by a tar baby, the terrorists are winning. When we take away our own freedom — simply out of fear — the terrorists have won.

Much has been said and written about the bravery of our soldiers, but now is the time for the rest of us to find our bravery. Like our soldiers, I am willing to die for freedom. I am willing for people to carry things on airplanes like laptops and hair gel, even though that might mean I might drop from the sky one day. I am willing to let the “Patriot” Act lapse knowing that some “evildoer” might not be “thwarted” by law enforcement and I might be the victim of a car bomb or something. I am willing to die for freedom — and I hope that you are too.

We might was well be willing to die for some higher cause. My grade school principal, Sister John Francis, reminded us ad nauseum that “the old must die — but the young may.” I think it was some kind of threat, actually. But she was right. We are all going to die, so it might as well be for some higher purpose. Being willing to die for freedom sounds pretty noble to me.

You would think that conquering the fear of death would be a snap in a “Christian nation,” but as I look around that is not what I see. People seem literally, well, terrified, of prematurely going to meet their Maker. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to die and even more I don’t want you to die, but we cannot do foolish things in fear of that moment. Are we going to get to the point where passenger airlines carry no luggage at all? No carry on? All the passengers naked under the special security robes that we will be handed at the gate? If we do not conquer our fear, this will come to pass.

There are many ways to conquer our fear. One is simple risk analysis — about 80 planes a year would have to drop out of the sky each year to equal highway deaths in the United States alone. Even at three bucks a gallon we keep driving. Or you could turn to your religious beliefs. If you are ready to meet your maker, what difference does it make if you are hit by a renegade sanitation vehicle or blown up by an ideological lunatic? I believe that no one dies in vain — you can live in vain, but not die in vain.

Calming the Fearful Mind CoverIf that does not help you to conquer your fear, perhaps a book would help. I would recommend Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism by Thich Nhat Hanh. It seems to me that this gets to the heart of things much better than all the police and military “solutions” that have ever been devised. The only way to “defeat” terrorism is not to allow fear — terror — to disrupt your life, take your freedom or corrode your soul.

Here is what Thich Nhat Hanh had to say in 2002:

Terror is in the human heart. We must remove this terror from the heart. Destroying the human heart, both physically and psychologically, is what we must absolutely avoid. The root of terrorism should be identified, so that it can be removed. The root of terrorism is misunderstanding, intolerance, hatred, revenge and hopelessness. This root cannot be located by the military. Bombs and missiles cannot reach it, let alone destroy it. Only with the practice of looking deeply can our insight reveal and identify this root. Only with the practice of deep listening and compassion can it be transformed and removed.

Do Buddhists say “amen?” If they don’t — I will. We win the “War on Terror” by no longer being terrified, pure and simple.


10 responses to “What are You Willing to Die For?

  1. Hmm…a very eloquent argument, but I couldn’t disagree more. First some definitions for Mirriam-Webster’s:

    Main Entry: pre•cau•tion
    Function: noun
    1 : care taken in advance : FORESIGHT
    2 : a measure taken beforehand to prevent harm or secure good

    Main Entry: 2fear
    Function: noun
    1 a : an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger b (1) : an instance of this emotion (2) : a state marked by this emotion
    2 : anxious concern : SOLICITUDE
    3 : profound reverence and awe especially toward God
    4 : reason for alarm

    The fact that you don’t see yesterday’s events as a victory is disheartening. I do agree that terrorists don’t necessary need to kill people to achieve their goals. However, I don’t really see the terrorists celebrating in their caves just because they caused long security lines at the airport.

    A “fear”-based response in the face of yesterday’s events would involve Americans deciding they were not going to fly that day. Instead, the vast majority of people boarded their flights as planned. (One silly woman I saw on ABC News who wouldn’t board her plane without her favorite lipstick. I hope she was kidding). A “precautionary” response to the news that terrorists had immediate plans to kill thousands by simultaneously blowing up at least 10 airplanes with liquid explosives is to carry on with air travel, but not allow liquids on planes. Not being able to carry certain items on an airplane is a small inconvenience when compared to the value of human life.

    As you pointed out, we allegedly live in a “Christian nation” that should not fear death. But neither should we just sit back and wait for it. I believe it is not God’s plan for us to die at the hands of others. God gives us free will – free will to board airplanes, drive cars, and bungee jump. When our time comes, those of us who are religious can seek comfort in the fact that God is waiting to welcome us at the Pearly Gates. But that doesn’t mean we should throw all caution to the wind because God’s got our back. Your comments seem to imply that a religious person who doesn’t welcome death should feel some sort of guilt. I happen to value the gift of life that God gave me (and don’t even get me started on how much I value the lives of my children who’d probably be with me on that airplane full of explosive liquids that no one wanted to bother to screen for).

    To show God the respect I have for his gift of life, I take precautions. I don’t drive too fast, I don’t smoke, I exercise, I look both ways before crossing the street, etc. I feel to do otherwise would be to give God the proverbial finger, and I just wouldn’t feel good about that. So the next time I fly, I’ll pack my carry-on accordingly.

  2. First, I think maybe we don’t disagree as much as you would like to think we do 🙂

    I’ll start with saying there is a world of difference between “not fearing” death and welcoming it or seeking it. Theologians and philosophers have tried to make this distinction in almost every major religious and ethical system. Welcoming or seeking death is the root of all kinds of problems, one of which is the willingness to die (and even worse, kill) in the name of an ideology or cause. Accepting the fact of death is the beginning of accepting our common humanity.

    That being said, it is not me that doesn’t see yesterday’s events as a “victory,” but rather, it seems, the powers that be. Today’s headlines don’t seem very “victorious” to me. The Herald calls our “victory” a “grim reminder.” The Journal Sentinal wonders if the heightened “security” restrictions are “The New Normal.” USA Today, perhaps, sums it up best of all with a picture of a black garbed police officer cradling a submachine gun in front of a huge flag, I assume at some airport somewhere.

    Keeping in mind that the event of yesterday was the “foiling” (love those media words!) of a terrorist “plot,” (we will see later how organized it really was as all the details come out) and not the actual blowing up of an airplane, it seems to me that a “victorious” response would the the opposite of what happened. “Hooray! Our police efforts work!” “We have enough, maybe more more than enough, airport security!” “Who needs the Patriot Act? The whimpy British police, who don’t even carry guns can foil terrorists!”

    But instead we raised the alert level, instituted even more restrictions, called out more heavily armed police, and surely new laws or regulations cannot be far behind.

    If this is victory, I don’t want any part of it.

  3. I am not going to presume to speak for Bill. But I think that the events AFTER the foiling of the massive Gatorade Plot are a loss for my country. And for me as a person.

    I lost freedom. I lose freedom everyday that this man is our leader. I believe that he violates our constitution on a daily level.

    That being said…I boarded a plane on friday afternoon at CWA. Like my friend Sullie says I love to push the buttons. In my carry on I had a bottle of water, I had a blackberry, I had a laptop, I had an ipod. All devices that the Gatorade Plotters clearly had in mind.

    I also arrive 15 minutes before my flight departed. This arrive 90 minutes before seems a little bit insane. It is a one boarding area airport, with the ability to walk out to a plane at any given time. So I checked in 15 minutes before hand, and the lady said to me “You should have been here an hour ago.”

    So I responded to her scolding with my own, “Just click the computer, and let me go. I bought a ticket, the plane has not left, let me pass Colonel Klink” I do not think she got the Hogans Heroes referance.

    At the gate they scanned my bag, my wonderful timbuk2 metro, and took my water bottle away. Let me board. The plane took off, and I killed no one with my blackberry or ipod. I even used them in the air. Shocking.

    I think the response to the Gatorade Plot is not one of fear, or at least it should not be. We should celebrate the men who caught the bad guys. If indeed they were bad guys…we live in the era of Cheney and Remsfield…nothing is as it seems.

    Like Bill, I am a soldier in the war for freedom. Freedom of Speech, of Access, or general tom foolery. The freedome to read the books I want from the library, the freedom to not be scanned by some rent a cop at a gate in Cleveland, the freedom to at least pretend there not reading my mail, this blog, or the porn I downloaded today. That is my employers role in my life.

    I am innocent until proven guilty.
    So are you.

    I am innocent until proven guilty.
    So are you.

    Thats all I need to know. Prove me guilty. Haul me in front of a judge, provide me the due process rights afforded me by the laws of the land. Get a search warrant for my home, and my dog, and my computer. You get a warrant, I will let you in. Until then I am putting aluminum foil on the walls, getting a tanning bed for the radiation blocking, and a pack of Winston Lights a gallon of milk, and never coming out.

    Prove me guilty. Stand before the man, and prove my bottle of aquafina is a bomb.

    We give up our rights everyday. We veil this in so much crap, imigration, gay marriage, homeland security, Nascar, red states, Sean Hannity. We pound this stuff, and people just give it up…the brown man is going to kill us all, take our jobs, steal our wives.

    I think I smell something in the streets, I think I see something in the streets…its the death of Empire. Our Empire is done. The bully of the world is fat and out of shape, and the other kids on the playground have had enough. How many parts of the world are pissed off at us…the Middle East, the Pacific Rim, Indonesia, Europe, South America. At least Africa has our back.

    In this victory they took my right to drink water on a plane.

    I am innocient until provent guilty.
    So are you.

  4. I just hope it was your Nalgene bottle they took 😉

  5. Thank you, Melissa. Your comments express my sentiments exactly. On a personal note, my grandparents left Russia, Romania and Austria for the United States in the late 1800’s. They valued life and refused to be victims of another type of terror. Back then they were called pogroms. Whole families and villages were massacured because they were Jewish. As a result, the US Military aquired two decorated war hero’s during World War II – my grandfathers – who were now American citizens. My great unlces also fought in the US military to preserve the freedom they valued and appreciated because they knew what it was like to have that taken away. Had my family “done nothing” so as to not give into the terror I would not be here today. The Holocaust would have wiped my family out if the pogroms hadn’t done so earlier. The terrorists would have won. Instead, we will soon be celebrating my grandmother’s 90th birthday in Chicago this Labor Day weekend. She will be surrounded by her many children and grandchildren and great-grandchilden. The fact the “we exist” and “thrive” is sweet revenge. Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it! So, I’ll take precautions to preseve my life and that of my children in the face of terror in hope that one day my great grandchildren will want to talk to me about the elusive terror figures in their history books that no longer exist or threaten our world.

  6. I am going to keep coming up with this statement…I am not comfortable losing my rights because of the potential acts of terror.

    What about possible this or possible that…maybe I need to get a shot, give up my computer, and eat soylent green

    This was a success, they caught the bad guys, and our government used it to take away more rights.

    This is a slippery slope. I am not going to get all zen about it, but where do we draw the line…is this a matter of what rights you deem important? We dont think water is that big a deal, but if you take socks away, or laptops, or god knows what?

    Its not a matter of degrees is it?

    Our government is not making me safer.

    Fuck it, I am going to Canada.

  7. When mothers have to drink their own breastmilk to prove something, I have a problem with that. I’m going to Canada with Dino. I think I’ll grow some hemp, too.

  8. Great…have at it. Everyone says they’re going to Canada and they never do.

    Seriously, though. I think we’re overusing using the word “right,” which has become a watered-down term in this discussion. We have rights outlined by the Constitution, and nothing there mentions a water bottle. You are utilizing a service, offered by a company, that answers to a regulating body. At the simplest point, they made a rule that they expect everyone to follow. We don’t cry oppression when Marcus Corp. tells us we can’t bring in our own Mountain Dew when we settle in for the most recent movie releases. Water will still be offered on flights, which is inconvenient, but not oppressive.
    This threat was new territory for the country. I’m sure they were aware of the possibilities regarding liquid explosives, but weren’t forced to deal with the realities of it until last week. They instituted a safeguard they believed was necessary, given the circumstances. Was it wide-ranging and a bit overkilled? Probably, and I truly think that those restrictions will be modified as we learn more about the realities of the threat we faced. I’m willing to give that time to shake out, but I usually err on the side of caution…I’m wimpy that way.
    I think we’re so quick to scream outrage that our voices have in some ways been muted. It doesn’t mean as much because we fight about everything. I would much rather save my voice to yell when the government watches the books I check out, the things I look at on the internet, and the phone calls I make. You want my water? Take it. Better yet, give it to Dino…he’s got a long drive to Canada. 🙂

  9. Fanboy,

    Your correct to point out that water is not a right. That is true. I misspoke. But I believe that the slope is the same one…the internt, the books you, the phone calls you make. Our government has proven to look at those things already.

    On my end, I believe that this is in fact another domino to fall in the long chain of disappearing freedom.

    I believe the constitution grants us the right to due process, our government has violated that right with the Patirot Act, with the NSA forcing of companies like ATT and Yahoo to turn over internet search data. The Patriot Act makes it possible for a government agency to monitor your books checked out from the library, without notification or any evidence that is publicly evaluated. These hearing are in private under the guise of national security.

    So I reframe…I am not comfortable losing my freedoms in this way. I simply am not. I am innocent, and I should not be punished nor investigated for something I have not done.

    National Security is not a veil we hide things in. We need our government to be willing to be accountable to the people.

  10. Ms. Mamma and Dino–can I come too?

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