If you had to make a choice between killing to protect what you believe is right or dying to protect what you believe is right, which would you choose? What would you rather do: kill or be killed? Forget about instinct, cause and effect, friends and family. All things being equal, and with a positive result for what is good either way, which person are you? Dead or alive? Martyr or hero? If push comes to shove, which Commandments do you follow? Do you feel more comfortable choosing your fate or deciding the fate of another? Would you Kill First or Die First?
Soldiers, of course, have no choice. As part of an army, they must protect their nation held dear. Their job is to kill rather than to be killed. Firefighters, on the other hand, run into burning buildings. They have obviously made a choice to be willing to die and have no need to decide to kill. Police officers have a slightly different situation. They have both the authority and the need to kill under specific circumstances, and live with the risk that they may be killed every day.
Ordinary people also have choices. While not apparently between life and death, they choose between their own common sense of right and wrong. In choosing between right and wrong in a democracy, the fundamental choice is actually between Kill First or Die First. What might appear to be misty shades of grey, perceived common sense, and party politics, is simply a lazy way of thinking. If you consider the fundamental difference between Kill First and Die First consciously, then the political choices that must be made for the good of the nation are more obvious. Most everyday decisions are not immediately life threatening, but by pursuing a deeper understanding of what our political choices are, we can realize that every decision we make is life threatening. Both Kill First and Die First choices must be chosen for a society to protect and better itself, but they must be made at the proper time and for the proper reason. Either choice selected to an extreme puts a nation at risk.
People have different interests and skills, and they are at different stages of personal growth when they vote. Wisdom, and the skills of critical thought, are acquired over time, but a democratic society allows all of its franchised citizens to vote without any qualifications. As a result, everyday issues and everyday choices are made by most citizens without too much critical thought.
With such a large swath of a society uninterested or unable to recognize the importance of its vote, how does a democratic society successfully make the careful choices between life and death, between Kill First and Die First? Most citizens do not take the time to read or think deeply on any one subject. More often than not, their decision and judgment is clouded by how it affects them financially. Clear speaking and clear thinking from a moral foundation is the duty of intellectuals and citizens alike.
If most votes can be characterized as misty grey lazy thinking, then is there a way to separate these choices into a black and white that ordinary people can use in everyday life? Most elections should be an 80/20 landslide because there is a clear answer available to most questions. If a problem is recognizable, then there should be an agreeable commonsense answer to solve it. Close elections are a clear sign of lazy thinking, and this has characterized our politics for far too many years.
The recurring challenge for the future is whether intellectuals have the courage to speak plainly and loudly to dispel the grey mist of lazy thinking. In many troubled societies, intellectuals are often targeted first for annihilation because they represent an ideological challenge to the usurping powers. Even in societies known for free speech, intellectuals often are eclipsed by the loud volume of partisan and parochial interests. In America, and throughout the world, intellectuals need to find the everyday courage of the soldiers, fire fighters and police officers to risk life and death for what they believe is right.
When the intellectuals of a society have been eliminated, all that is left are the two extreme partisan wings. Conflicted societies fall into a cycle of civil war that is very difficult to exit. Columbia, Northern Ireland, Algeria are all examples of this vicious cycle. Intellectuals find both a middle ground and shed a new perspective on political positioning. The American media has grown to value spin more than substance, posturing more than platforms. There needs to be more analysis in the mainstream media, or there is no point to free speech. The web is an opportunity for new voices, but it is as a poor substitute for intelligent public discussions.
On a personal level, there is only one correct answer to the question posed originally: One must be willing to sacrifice, to Die First for the greater good, otherwise there can be no greater good. The selfless example of Christ is not beyond mankind’s ability to duplicate. Socrates drank the hemlock to demonstrate the folly of the lazy grey-thinkers. Mobs will always exhibit a willingness to destroy what they cannot understand, and power mongers will always be uncomfortable with the existence of critical thinkers. The Commandments and Christ’s example clearly prove that it is always better to be Die First rather than to Kill First.
For a government and a society to protect itself however, it recognizes situations where it must be willing to Kill First, and likewise to make errors in that calculation. Protection of the innocent cannot be the only cause of action, sometimes risking the innocent is a cost factor in Kill First/Die First too. Nevertheless, protecting the innocent should be a high priority in any truly democratic society.
In using Christ and the Commandments as an answer to the original question, this analysis seems to challenge the Muslim tradition, because these events are outside of their history. But, other religions have also come to the same conclusion that it is better to Die First than it is to Kill First.
The ideological difference between Kill First and Die First can be generally regarded as conservative and liberal. Conservatives are more likely to choose to kill first, whereas liberals are more likely to choose to die first. The Dixie Chicks are subject to mob anger for challenging a president who chose to Kill First rather than take any chance waiting. This is an example of how a lazy grey-thinking conservative public mob forms. After 9/11 the president rose to protect innocent Muslims and our country from devolving into chaos, but criticism of himself, whether on the Bill Mahr show or by the Dixie Chicks, is a different story. He led the attacks on Bill Mahr and was deafeningly silent regarding the attacks on the Dixie Chicks. He demonstrated the sad attributes of both a power monger and a conservative.
Equally sad is the interplay between conservatives and liberals and the war machines. Liberal and conservative does not necessarily mean Democrat and Republican, but rather those who choose to Kill First and those who choose to Die First. The Christian choice is to Die First.
Consider the army of the al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants are clearly conservatives. They demonstrate a willingness to kill for their version of the greater good. They wrap themselves in a Muslim robe of piety, and convince the liberals that they should be willing to die for the greater good. What we see as a suicide bomber are the actions of a stupid liberal being manipulated by a conservative. The conservative risks little and gains much, because of his willingness to Kill First.
In a normal society, the suicide bombers might well have been a soldier, a fire fighter or a police officer, because they have demonstrated a power to think beyond themselves and a willingness to sacrifice themselves. Of all the events surrounding 9/11, this is the most puzzling. Those nineteen men, filled with both hate and sacrifice, who spent years planning their death for the greater glory of God, never left the lazy grey haze of everyday thinking. Like Judas, they have betrayed everything holy, but 9/11 was as pre-ordained as Christ’s betrayal. It is part of a fabric that we cannot understand. How does God judge them? Is a willingness to Die First in the Muslim religion not the same as a willingness to Die First in another religion? Yes, they killed others in their death, but isn’t that exactly what our victor celebrates when the war we choose to start is over? We all become our adversary when we choose to kill him. Which act of aggression as self-defense counts as the first one?
Christianity stops the vicious cycle of kill-or-be-killed by turning the other cheek, it doesn’t matter who the adversary is, or what brought about the rage. It is too much to ask a nation to turn the other cheek, it must protect its borders and its society, but it is not too much to ask its people to turn the other cheek. The crisis in the Catholic Church is an example of the people being wiser than its leaders. Rather than turning away from the church, many parishioners demonstrate a forgiving spirit and are fighting for a return to the courageous moral virtue that the leadership must embody.
The battle between the West and the Arab worlds is an old story. However, the polarization seems to have grown immensely in recent years. There is a hardening of positions in the Muslim world and they have a deeper understanding of our Western habits. In an irony they are not likely to appreciate, Muslim extremists are using western tools of science to organize and propagate themselves, and like most true believers, they use each piece of their Western knowledge and twist it to fit their philosophy of Kill First.
Consider these passions from an al Qaeda training manual:
To those champions who avowed the truth day and night…And wrote with their blood and sufferings these phrases…
The confrontation that we are calling for with the apostate regimes does not know Socratic debates… Platonic ideals…,
nor Aristotelian diplomacy. But it knows the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing, and destruction, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine-gun.
… Islamic governments have never and will never be established through peaceful solutions and cooperative councils. They are
established as they [always] have been
by pen and gun
by word and bullet
by tongue and teeth
These people are hateful and angry, but they are not crazy. They have consciously chosen to reject our Western reason. Their handbook may not be very different from our own soldier training manuals. They do not want to engage the West in a logical debate of the issues. They are as convinced of their God’s righteousness as we are of ours. They reject any claim that implies an intellectual debate with us is useful. Where we see democracy and separation of church and state as the path to individual freedom, they see it as ruin. For them, the individual is secondary.
In this context it is curious that Bush did not choose to debate Saddam Hussein. What was to be lost by calling Saddam’s bluff? Bush could have suggested meeting at the United Nations or in Geneva. What are the odds that the real Saddam would show up?
The Muslims see the pen, the word, and the tongue as the intellectual tools for educating themselves. For convincing the West there is the gun, the bullet, and the teeth. The farcical debate Hussein offered provided a forum to speak to the Muslim world, and explore our common moral visions. Given the considerable resources we expended attacking him, what was to be lost by speaking to him?
Muslims are conflicted. The Socratic method is not American; it is thousands of years old. By rejecting everything American, they must also reject all the gifts of humanity that much of mankind embraces. The grey mist of their lazy thinking is a thick soup of contradiction. The above passage represents both an understanding of logic and a fear that logic will undermine their reasons for an Islamic revolution.
There is this other complaint from the same al Qaeda training manual:
After the fall of our orthodox caliphates on March 3, 1924 and after expelling the colonialists, our Islamic nation was afflicted with apostate rulers who took over in the Moslem nation. These rulers turned out to be more infidel and criminal than the colonialists themselves. Moslems have endured all kinds of harm, oppression, and torture at their hands.
After the World Wars, the West carved up the Mid-East to serve its parochial purposes. While that is an ancient and remote history to Americans lost in a wasteland of consumption and new technology, in the slower-paced Muslim world it is an open wound. Consider how the American South still struggles with segregation and equality one hundred forty years after the Civil War, and it is easy to understand why the Mid-East is the way it is today. The children there are indoctrinated with the conservative choice to kill first, be they Westernized, Jew or Muslim.
In the moments after 9/11, America had a unique historic opportunity to speak to the world and define both ourselves and the common ground of our humanity. It was a moment where the decision to choose to kill or be killed was most poignant. Muslims did not want to believe that it was an action of Muslim faith that carried out the attack. The attack was the conservative choice to Kill First carried out to a grotesque extreme. Many Arabs enjoyed with guilty pleasure that America had finally gotten some payback.
Rather than challenging the path of mankind, and reiterating the American example, President Bush chose instead the lazy conservative view that he should decide the fate of others, and that Christianity and America is better served by killing. Rather than finding the difficult solution through peace and self-sacrifice, it would be more of the same from the conservatives. He followed the path of all the recent Republican administrations, including setting up new strong-arm leaders to quash the Muslim resistance.
The American message to a world beset with religious hate was expressed by our first president. In a visit to the first synagogue in America, Washington stated:
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants–while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.
Our agrarian society of the 17th Century has grown and prospered because of a simple recognition of moral choices, and the courage to make them. The wisdom to choose peace in a world divided by religious hate has made us prosperous.
A Commander-in-Chief cannot take the oath of office and turn the other cheek when attacked, but the American President can speak to greater aspirations of our humanity than this president does. As a conservative, he made the choice long ago that to Kill First was the best response. In fact, his use of the word kill was so prevalent that his wife had him strip it out of his speeches during the aftermath of 9/11. The Secretary of Defense, in describing the Iraqi opposition, exhibited an eerie glee when describing how our military will kill the opposition. The President’s pompous ceremony marking the end of combat in Iraq with a grand entrance upon an aircraft carrier reveals his lust for glory, disrespect for human life, and a naive view of the tragic circumstances of war. He is comfortable with the killing, and is very proud that the American military machine was able to kill the leadership and its army without great loss of civilian lives. But had the military technology not been there, he would have proceeded nevertheless.
The greatest weapon of a powerful nation is restraint, something Israel practices everyday by not attacking its hostile neighbors. By rushing into war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush has squandered our best opportunity to engage a Socratic debate with the Muslim world. There are centuries of infighting among the Muslims, far worse than the racism that scars the American experience. There will be no peace in these historic lands without a courageous new leadership of ideas. While the al Qaeda may fear a debate based on logic, many Muslims may accept the challenge of a new idea if it is presented properly.
Sixty years ago the American people helped save the world from the hate of Nazism and fascism. Forty years ago President Kennedy toured the world to a warm and loving audience. What has happened in the last forty years that America would be the object of such scorn and hatred?
The answer is the ascendancy of a conservative political power and foreign policy in the presidency. The wise soldiers Eisenhower and Kennedy were replaced by the spiteful and hateful Nixon. Nixon, who had made a career out of damaging our democracy, gave legitimacy to mob hate by holding hearings with Joseph McCarthy investigating his definition of anti-American behavior. As president, he continued to hold a view as narrow as the al Qaeda and Muslim fundamentalists that we fight today. Together with Kissinger, Nixon set-up a police state in the Mideast to ensure our free flow of resources. Two years after the scheduled end of his administration, Iran fell to the fundamentalists. The Machiavellian wisdom of the Kissinger foreign policy failed miserably to maintain either peace or dignity in the Mideast. Our excursion into Vietnam is another tragic example of a conservatives’ willingness to Kill First.
The next conservative president, who as Governor of California presided over the prosecution and intimidation of those who would exercise their free speech to protest the Vietnam War, replaced the other soldier-president Carter. Reagan’s ascendancy was a gift from the stupid liberal Democrats, and specifically from John Anderson and Ted Kennedy, who destroyed the opportunity for a kind, decent and gentle man to lead our nation for a second term. Given Reagan’s involvement in the Hollywood blacklisting which was part of Nixon’s anti-American crusade, it is no surprise that today Hollywood is more politicized. Today’s neo-conservatives complaints about the political involvement of Hollywood stars are nothing but hypocrisy.
The West has been wrestling with rising Islamic fundamentalism and oil supply issues since Nixon and Kissinger’s Mideast strategy was implemented. While Carter was the first victim of this strategy, other presidents have likewise been subject to the stress it has caused. Where Carter recognized that the strategy’s only chance to work was with an Arab-Israeli peace accord, all the conservative presidents have followed Kissinger’s plan to protect the West’s oil supply interests by maintaining our client states. Having Kissinger lead an investigation into the causes of 9/11 was worse than having the fox guard the hen house. The hens had been slaughtered, and the fox was investigating the murder.
Following Reagan, we had the well-connected lazy thinker Bush Sr. as President. The oil issue is driven by Western avarice, and this original American family shows all the signs of the corruption of wealth. In the same way that Osama bin Laden is a spoiled billionaire’s son with a penchant for lazy conservative ideas, the same could be said for this First Family. As a sitting Vice-President, Bush had one son who was the president of the government’s largest savings-and-loan bailout, Silverado in Colorado. Another son, as governor of Florida, was too cheap to pay the duty tax on jewelry purchased in Bermuda, and tried to smuggle them back to the U.S. undeclared. The current President Bush was so mature at age thirty that he got a DUI while his father was the Director of the CIA. In fact, it seems to be one of the disabilities of great wealth that successive generations, be they liberal or conservative, are often lazy thinkers, with a lust for power.
What was truly refreshing about the Clinton administration was that it proved that someone from a broken poor family with the skill of critical thinking can rise to the top in our democracy. While money corrupts our politics, the value of free speech and the free exchange of ideas is still alive in this experiment. If citizens understood the greatness of and the frailty of this one fact, then they would all vote at every election.
Of course, watching the investigations of the Clintons based on a tenuous connection to a savings-and-loan, when the previous president’s direct relationship with a gigantic failure was not investigated, is enough to turn many a stomach away from the political process. The investigations of Clinton were an abuse of power driven by the Republican controlled congress and conservative thinkers. It was no different than the disingenuous search for communists that took place years earlier. Voting should not be about pocket-book issues or about attacking others; it should be about building a better society in which we all will live.
The peace process that Carter started crept during the following conservative Reagan years. The Muslim hate was still there, as Lebanon proved. Our quick exit from Lebanon and later Somalia exposes the conservative unwillingness to Die First to serve a greater good. Bush’s mixed signals to our then ally Iraq led to the invasion of Kuwait and to the American bases in Saudi Arabia, which further provoked the Muslim fundamentalists.
The American response to 9/11 has been the same as our response to Vietnam: Catch and Kill. It is no surprise we lost the war in Vietnam. Our adversary understood the profound difference between Kill First and Die First. The self-immolation practiced by the Vietnamese was a sign of understanding and wisdom. Die First would not stop us from entering and destroying their villages and killing their innocents. Die First was an example of how to live even under the most stressful of circumstances.
Christ’s example is not unique to Christianity. Sacrificing the innocent and sacrificing yourself are the costs of Die First, and of turning the other cheek, whereas protecting the innocent is the intended goal of Kill First. Dramatic moral decisions can only be made during stressful times. Conservatives always select the expedient and self-serving Kill First choice whenever confronted with a difficult decision. Conservatives are immoral by their very nature.
The challenge for the West is that our Muslim adversary has a strategy that contains both Kill First and Die First elements. By using the young and the stupid liberals, the conservatives have found a way to achieve their aims by abusing their ideological opposites. This is an ingenious co-opting of an opponent. They destroy both their adversary as well as their own potential challengers in the same attack. In the same way that despots annihilate intellectuals, this strategy isolates and removes spirited individuals from their own midst.
Al Queda used 19 box cutters to wreak devastation on 9/11; we cannot underestimate the cleverness of this adversary. The dead Die First hijackers were exactly the type of individuals to lead the Muslim revolution into a new direction. Bin Laden’s description of Mohamed Atta as “the pious one” pointedly reveals the difference between he who would Die First and he who would Kill First. Unlike the Stalinist 5-Year Plans, the al Qaeda five-year plan was successful. Most of our best intelligence has come from suicide attackers who had a change of heart and were able to think clearly. Five years is a long time, and the track record of the al Qaeda is a stunning success. Our best defense is to battle for the hearts and minds and the moral high ground. Without mutual respect from Arabs, the West will not find peace.
Long term, the strategy of Catch and Kill will fail again because it simply increases the power of conservative thought. The more conservative thought is accepted, whether in the West or in Islam, the worse the world situation will grow. For it to stop, there must be a resurgence of intellectuals and liberal ideas. 9/11 marks a high point in self-serving conservative hate.
The al Qaeda menace will not be defeated with American might alone. In the same way the Ku Klux Klan and the Mafia can only be resisted through the cooperation of insiders, so too will it be necessary for Arabs to help resist the poison in their culture. It is not enough to audit, eavesdrop and strong-arm, the Arabs must be part of the solution to the excesses of their own conservative culture.
America has a growing neo-conservative movement which is made up of self-described “born-again” believers. These Christian warriors believe in Kill First. A more accurate description of these people would be the “unborn,” since they are dead to the true spirit of Jesus Christ. Rather than understanding Christ’s example, they wrap themselves in piety in the same way that Islamic fundamentalists do. They care only for those who agree with their point of view, all others are infidels whose fate they feel empowered to decide. This is why we see murders of abortion doctors and scorn from the demonstrators at clinics. If they were Pro-Love, they would be working to help people in a difficult situation, rather than passing judgment on them. The zealots of the Christian Right are every bit as dangerous as the al Qaeda, the Ku Klux Klan, and an Un-American Activities Committee. There is room for law-abiding hateful believers in a freedom loving democracy, but not in positions of responsibility or majority.
The net effect of Republican presidencies is that the neo-conservatives are escalating the battle with the Muslim conservatives. The arms race is now a hate race. American conservatives have dragged the world into a chaos of their own making, and it seems to be getting worse, as the fractured coalition for the Iraq War shows. It is quite ironic and sad that Newt Gingrich lambasted the State Department’s diplomatic efforts recently. First, he led the rise of the conservative power in Congress. Second, he was attacking Colin Powell, who like other soldier leaders, seems to understand and respect the Kill First / Die First choices. Third, he is probably not a neo-conservative, but his attack will strengthen their hand in the Republican Party, and further diminish chances for peace in the world.
A fair characterization of American politics for the past forty years is that the Democrats are stupid. Democrats increasingly focus on pocket-book issues and abandon hard moral choices. But the Republicans are dangerous. Their philosophy was never moral. That does not mean one party is always right and the other party is always wrong. Every choice is made uniquely. In general, the Republican choices are conservative and immoral whereas the Democratic choices are liberal and moral.
Our best future lies in a return to the fundamental morality and courage that this country was founded upon. The founding fathers were both intellectuals and radicals, and their actions were tempered with both a respect for God and for each other. In an agrarian age of comparative difficulty, they set an example of honesty, mutual integrity and clear thinking. We have engaged in a great many wars during our brief history, including a great Civil conflict regarding the freedom and dignity for all our people. The forces that would choose to enslave a people, force children to work long hours in factories, and build sweatshops on foreign shores, are all one and the same. Avarice, hate, and legal racketeering are the hallmarks of tyranny, be they American or Muslim or of a British king. As a nation of laws, we have the opportunity to correct our misdirection peacefully, but the stakes are still the same. To gain liberty, the majority must have the willful courage to sacrifice themselves in ways great and small. To Die First.
Lincoln, Kennedy, and Martin Luther King all stand as modern examples of liberalism. Their deaths were greater terrorist acts than 9/11. These men did not live and die for the petty goals of free enterprise, unchecked wealth, or glory. They lived and died to build a future of freedom for all mankind. As Americans, our great forefathers left us a wonderful gift: The Power To Vote. There will never be enough great leaders or great thinkers. There will never be a shortage of problems, but that is no reason for despair. Every American is empowered. Vote. Vote Liberal. Demand more, both of yourself and of your representatives. Your vote is a revolution.