Monday, December 24, 2007

Safety and Peace On Earth

Last year at Christmas I stayed in a hotel room in England, and then later took a flight. As air marshals, we were told the threat to the U.K. and U.S. airspace was still elevated. This morning, as a token reminder of that threat, I watched news video footage of the World Trade Center buildings getting rammed by airplanes and collapsing to the ground in a cloud of dust and debris.

For Christmas this year in Iraq I get to work an extra shift—and an extra long shift for several days. I’m mostly happy to do it though, so a soldier can be at home with his family.

A Congressional Delegation came to visit today. That was nice of them to leave their families this year to visit the troops. Each of them, from the House Armed Services Committee, looked like fish out of water. Both Democrats and Republicans came and it didn’t matter to me that they were a partisan party; they were all Americans.

It’s always good to see fellow Americans. Any pleasant, decent or good human being is a friend of mine. In that respect, then, my Christmas wish for bi-partisan respect and love came true, for me at least. Actually, I have more in common with the Democrats than with the Republicans in the delegation here. Each of them, however, is trying to do some good in the world and make a positive difference. There’s something to be said for that.

As I’ve considered my own New Year’s resolutions and goals, I am determined to be more charitable and loving, more patient and tolerant. Each of us has differences, but we can all learn to be a little more kind, giving and respectful. Our race, gender, language, skin color, religious preference, national heritage or cultural background, etcetera, matter very little in the scheme of things. Principles of decency and civility matter most. We need to—we ought to—treat each other better.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about loving my enemies, even if having to use lethal or deadly force against someone in the commission of a violent crime or in an act of war. Can I love a man as I’m literally destroying and killing him? Most citizen-soldiers have likely never considered that often if at all, but I have. And, I believe I could. Yet I hope I never have to.

I love little children with purity. Stuck on a military base amidst grown-ups, I miss seeing little children play, smile and laugh. It would be nice to hug my children and see the excitement of their faces as they open their Christmas gifts.

I love people. Some are easier to love than others. Some try our patience and test our tolerance. Some are simply not fun to be around; others are terrible influences. The greatest friends tend to help us be better and do better. Just as sure as there is good in the world and people who do good things, there is evil in the world and people who engage in evil, uncivilized and atrocious acts. It is the act and the habit of the evil-doer that must be stopped. The great thing is people can change.

A hard-core drug user stayed up for eight days straight. The dangerous methamphetamines caused him to lose 45 pounds during that time. He hallucinated severely and experienced all the horrific side affects of that drug. Speaking of writing down your New Year’s resolutions, this guy, in a rage of violence and anger at the world, made long list of people he planned to kill.

He was involved in a life of late-night parties. One of his best friends was shot and killed while they both ran away from a house where a rival gang member showed up to cause trouble. In his mind at the time, this kid had nothing good to live for. He had murder in his heart and he didn’t care if he died. But he didn’t kill anyone nor did he harm himself any further. Instead, he turned his life around. He changed. People can change.

Today he is a productive member of society. He is clean. He is honorable. No one would ever know of his past, and no one would need to know. He forgave himself and he feels forgiven of his past abuses. He cleaned his life up and made amends for his wrongs. He is happy and has found true and lasting peace and joy in an honorable occupation, a harmonious marriage and lovely children. He lives in a good neighborhood and he’s a good person.

I believe even the vilest and most detestable human beings can change, but those who don’t change should be forced to stop if they encroach upon the rights and security of others. The innocent people, often incapable of defending themselves, must be spared and shielded from atrocities and crimes. That duty to protect and preserve lies upon each civilized society and person.

The job of stopping savage brutality and murderous intentions is borne of love. I vehemently oppose all war and killing, but I sometimes wonder if the most out-spoken anti-war critics ever consider anyone but themselves.

I have since become a commissioned military officer, but many years ago, when I first enlisted in the Army, at my first days of boot camp, I recall seeing a poster on the wall with the inscribed words of one of America’s Founding Fathers.

In the Saint John’s Church in Richmond Virginia, Patrick Henry eloquently and profoundly asked, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” (Speech before the 2nd Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775.)

Everyone deserves freedom. Indeed, the writers of the Declaration of Independence left no room for ostracism, partiality, bias or discrimination when they eloquently and solemnly wrote: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

At this holiday season when Muslims celebrate for three days of Eid al-Adha, God’s test of Abraham, and when Jews celebrate Hanukkah, and Christians celebrate Christmas, let us all seek for greater peace and love. We could accomplish so much more with a little more peace and a lot more love.

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