Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11, Of Arrows and Olive Branches






Today is supposed to be a day of national service, declared by President Obama. I still remember vividly the dazed look on the faces of passer by in Brooklyn. There was a shock, a numbness. It reminded me of when I stuck my entire hand into scalding water. The first few seconds, I felt nothing. After that, I felt searing pain.

America was like that when the planes hit. After the numbed silence came the anger. The natural question was "Who did this?"

In other places, there was honking of car horns in the street. There was celebration. We live in a world where some people are proud to raise a son to be a suicide bomber. Some actually take the trouble to come to America, to live among us and to kill us. And there are those who sponsor them.

There are those who believe that if we show enough kindness, enough respect and enough flexibility in understanding our enemies, that we can turn them into friends. The track record of success for this approach is real poor. It makes no distinction between those who are out to physically destroy us, those who like us and those in between. The foreign policy upon which this is based involves giving the cold shoulder to reliable friends like Britain and Germany, and cozying up to the rough crowd. It has not worked. The last believer in this misguided path was Jimmy Carter. His spiritual godfather is Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister of Britain, who sought to purchase "peace in our time" with Czech territory. History did not absolve his "audacity of hope" any more than the millions did who were killed in World War Two.

September 11 is, despite not being a national holiday is a formative milestone in the history of our country. I consider it to be a time of patriotic reflection.

Upon what do I reflect? I think of the eagle on the dollar bill. In its right claw is arrows, symbolising war, or at least the bearing of arms to defend the peace. In the right claw is the olive branch, symbolising peace. The olive tree actually produces food, in the form of oil and olives. Its oil is sometimes burned for light.

There are those who are temperamentally suited for peaceful pursuits, for caring professions and for acts of kindness. And there are those who take up the arrows of our time, such as soldiers and policemen. Almost no one is totally peaceful or totally warlike. For an individual or a nation to survive, they must sensibly balance these tendencies.

The eagle on the dollar bill clasps in its beak a banner saying "E pluribus unum," which translates as "Out of many, one." This involves fashioning America's diverse elements into an orderly society, it involves using our G-d given minds to harmonise the arrows and the olive branch.

Those who seek to placate our enemies, to follow a path of pacifism evoke images of an eagle that has dropped its arrows. Those who on the other extreme espouse Darwinian capitalism seem more intent on dropping the olive branch. I believe that the seal on the dollar bill represents the middle path that should be our future.

There are some holidays that belong more to the olive branch than to the arrows. Thanksgiving is such a holiday. September 11, a formative day in our history without an agreed upon name seems to belong more to the arrows. A fitting observance of this holiday would be to honour our police, military and firemen for their defense of the peace we so treasure.

I fear that a day of public service envisioned by President Obama should not be scheduled for September 11. Each of the major faiths in America has time and resources devoted to "extending the olive branch." Kindness and compassion will not be endangered if honour is given to our armed peace keepers on September 11.

The lessons of 9/11 are still being learned. I feel that President Obama has a firm grip on the olive branch. I don't know about the arrows. Sphere: Related Content

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