Becoming what we hate

An often used sermon illustration tells a story of famed interviewer Mike Wallace, one of the original correspondents for 60 Minutes.   Wallace was asked to interview Yehiel Dinur, a principal witness at the Nuremberg war crime trials.  Upon entering the courtroom and facing Adolph Eichmann, Dinur began to tremble, wept uncontrollably, and collapsed. When Mike Wallace asked Dinur why he had collapsed, was it reliving the memories, the nightmares, and the grief?   The man answered:  "No I collapsed because I was afraid about myself.  I saw that I am exactly like him, capable of this."

It is said that after pausing for a while Wallace turned to the camera and said, "That poses a question.  Was Eichmann a monster, a mad man, or something even more terrifying?  Was he normal?”

One of the ironies of life is the ability to become the very thing we oppose.   As a society we want to stop murder so we execute murders and become murders ourselves.  I remember a time when I became so frustrated when by boys beat on each other that I hit them and told them to stop.

“The ultimate weakness of violence,” observed Martin Luther King, Jr., “is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.”

Why do we so easily fall into the trap of thinking that the cure for violence is more violence?  In his book Engaging the Powers, Walter Wink states: “We want desperately to believe that our forcible retaliation to evil is like a projectile fired from a gun that will drop evil in its tracks.  In fact, it is more like a ball thrown by a pitcher that will, as likely as not, come back at us, or over the fence.”

As a country we have been engaged in the War on Terror for more than a decade now.  It is difficult to argue that confronting violence with violence has been successful.  I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if instead of declaring a war on terror, we had pursued a path towards reconciliation and understanding of our enemy.  Would it have been easy?  Probably not.  Would it have meant fewer casualties on both sides?  Probably.