In the movie Star Wars, at the moment the planet Alderaan was destroyed, Obi-wan Kenobi spoke the words, “I felt a great disturbance in The Force, as though millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” Exactly one week ago, a frighteningly similar, but not fictitious occurrence, took place as in brief moments, thousands of innocent lives were snuffed out. Suddenly, all across the world, our lives merged with theirs. Their pain became ours.
Certainly, there have been attacks that claimed more lives. A single atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan during World War II claimed 75,000 lives in the blink of an eye; another detonated over Hiroshima, destroyed 100,000 people. Incendiary raids over Germany created firestorms killing thousands overnight. These, however, were acts committed during a declared, full-scale war. Tuesday’s debacle was initiated by an adversary not clearly identified while we were not at war.
Living things on the earth, and perhaps throughout the universe, are inter-related, functioning in a tightly integrated web of life. Influenced by our planet’s rotation, its orbit in space, and our proximity to the moon, tides rise and fall, the earth’s surface warms and cools, air masses ebb and flow, winds come and rain falls. Seasons change, plants rise from germinating seeds, flower, and fruit. Animals eat plants and each other. Organisms are born, live and die as their cells are imbued with a marvelous life force and then in death, lose it.
Death in nature is commonplace, even in massive numbers. Every evening, bats swarm into the darkening sky, killing thousands and thousands of flying insects. Dragonflies and similar insect predators roam about, ending the lives of numberless prey species. Owls drop soundlessly on mice and other small animals. Coyotes, foxes, skunks and other carnivores stalk the fields and forests. However, these animals are not random killers merely intent on bringing pain and death for political or ideological purposes. Although apparently purposeless killing does occasionally take place in the wild animal world, it is very rare. Normally death in nature begets life by providing food.
Humans are unique because of our communication ability, the complex nature of our cultures, and our viciousness. At the same time, humans have also developed systems of ethics and religion that largely revolve around policies of peaceful coexistence. Christians are by no means alone, neither do they have a monopoly on, the desire to foster love, domestic tranquility and understanding in the world. The essential writings and principles of Jews, Taoists, Hindus, true believers in Islam, and a multitude of other religions oppose violence, terror and wanton killing.
Common not only to these groups, but also to Native Americans and many ancient civilizations has been a belief in a Supreme Being and the assumption that this “force” had a controlling influence on all things in the universe. In that sense, there is no doubt that last Tuesday there was, indeed, a “disturbance in The Force” and all right-thinking people should have felt its far-reaching influence.
Nature – and we are all a part of it – is resilient, self balancing, and restorative. We will recover from the disasters in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, although our perspective and emotions will be forever altered. However, it is vitally important that we do not turn on our own species simply because their culture differs from ours. In the past few days beatings and deaths of Americans of Mid-Eastern extraction have taken place in this country, triggered by madness and frustration in the minds of unreasoning people. We must not become like those rare and demented carnivores of the wilds that from time to time destroy without cause. It is time that our best qualities must come out. Defense and a search for justice are justifiable. Blind vengeance is not.
We are God’s greatest creation. In our world, there is absolute good, and absolute evil. I pray that as we seek justice we do not revert to behavior that, even in the world of wild carnivores, is aberrant, self-destructive, and wrong.
The tragedies of last week are not, as a local television news anchor insensitively stated to me, “a long way away” and not a source of any personal inconvenience to him. It is sad to think that anyone in the world is now so far removed from reality that they must ask “for whom the bell tolls;” it tolls for us all. Today we are all victims.
Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click firstname.lastname@example.org to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.