Counting the Cost

I remember feeling numb and disoriented. I was teaching when a colleague burst through my classroom door with the news. I dismissed class and walked over to the Carlson student lounge, watching in horror the images on TV of the towers disintegrating. It didn’t seem real – like one of those miniature sets they blow up in the movies. But then — the haunting white cloud hanging all day over that blank spot in the New York skyline; the fear in a colleague’s voice saying she was going home immediately; prayers in class the next day for missing relatives who had been in the towers; the inevitable question, “Why do they hate us so much?”; the barrage of shocking images — it became painfully real.

I also remember wincing when President Bush called for a war on terror. War? Really? It looked like murder to me, on a huge scale true, but requiring international police action, not mobilizing the army. Everyone (even Iran) was on our side at first. Couldn’t we go after the perpetrators as criminals and plausibly catch them? Besides I wondered, how does an army wage war when the enemy is terror? How would we know when we had won? Does a war on terror ever end? How could we avoid being complicit ourselves in the mass murder of innocents by attempting such a mission?

Today I wish we hadn’t reached for the military option as though it was the only one that made sense. It has been far too costly:

  • in blood, counted in uniform; uncounted as civilians
  • in treasure, at $1.2 trillion (amid economic freefalls and the spectacle of haggling over domestic lifelines; hitting home at North Park as cuts to financial aid)
  • in our national psyche, giving up civil liberties for elusive “security” and blaming “others” (immigrants, the “entitled” poor, Islamic fundamentalists); are we more secure 10 years later?
  • in the way we’ve been distracted from the real threats to life on the planet; still completely addicted to oil, going to any length to preserve our “way of life” (the current Alberta Tar Sands Keystone pipeline project is a perfect example) even though clearly unsustainable past maybe the end of this century.

I am a Mennonite and a pacifist. I actually happen to believe that following Jesus requires pacifism, even though I know that most people, Christians included, think pacifism is quaintly ridiculous. Ten years after 9/11, I hope the Christian community stops for a moment and “counts the cost” (Luke 14:28) as Jesus invited us to do. Has it been worth it? Is this a moment to reconsider what it means to follow the “Slaughtered Lamb” who, in Stanley Hauerwas’ words, “would rather die on the cross than for the world to be redeemed by violence,” and whose resurrection defeating death makes it “possible and necessary for Christians to live nonviolently in a world of violence”? (Dissent from the Homeland: Essays after 9/11)

Dr. Helen Hudgens
Associate Professor of Music

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Professor Helen Hudgens