American outrage has run high since September 11, 2001. Al-Qaeda’s vicious attack roused our country to a combative anger, which has had little opportunity to dissipate. But if the act was intended to terrorize the country, it failed. Instead, it stirred America to action and started the long process that will ultimately see Al-Qaeda’s destruction.
For some Americans, though, anger and determination weren’t enough. They believed the war on hatred had to be waged with hatred. America had to hate in order to combat religious murderers.
This rage has already been embraced by extremist groups within our country—people who oppose the country’s policies, morals, and toleration. These terrorists, too, want to practice merciless war against those they label “the enemy.” They are more than just lone psychotics at a Washington museum we saw recently. They are Americans committing murder in the name of white supremacy, weapon stockpiles, and anti-Semitism. They are also Muslims opening fire on a recruiting office in Arkansas, the Jewish Federation in Seattle, or the Empire State Building’s observation deck.
Idealism is ill-served by terror. For one thing, Americans are particularly hard to terrorize. Moreover, our history shows hatred is rarely victorious. It is ultimately defeated, though not until a lot of innocent people suffer.
During the Second World War, when America was under attack by two global powers, some Americans said we needed to hate more to achieve victory. Post editors had an interesting opinion about this call for hatred. In a 1943 editorial, they praised the “indifference” of Americans in response to “the recent effort of a small group of super-duper-patriots to make the rest of us feel guilty for not hating the enemy enough. More hate, it was urged, was needed if we were to win the war. The idea seemed to be that hate was not a primary emotion, but an attitude of mind which could be adopted after a season of intellectual deliberation. The spectacle of a nation solemnly asking itself, ‘Let’s see, are we hating hard enough?’ was too grotesque to be taken seriously.
“Undoubtedly, there are plenty of reasons to hate our enemies. … If the Japanese or the Germans were in control of our states and cities, we should hate enough to satisfy anybody, but it is hardly likely that we should win the war any sooner on that account. War is a grim and unpleasant business, and hate blazes up inevitably before it is over.”
Later, the Post received a letter from a staff sergeant fighting in the Pacific. Writing under fire, he offered his thought on the need to avoid hatred, even in war:
“Out here, we have come to know America. We have learned the love a man can have for his homeland. It is an unexpected love for us to have, for we were almost disinherited. In our day we have booed the display of the flag, hooted the President, laughed at Congress, scorned a country that had no place for us and then fought for all those things and some of us died for them. Things that meant nothing to us before are valuable now, for they have been threatened and we have secured them.
“We wonder why people deplore our lack of interest in hatred. We know the quality of hatred. We have felt it for those of our country who have failed us. But charity is greater in us than hatred. And patience is greater, and tolerance. And the knowledge of the transitory nature of things is strong in us. Those who were with us yesterday aren’t here today. What we felt yesterday, we cannot feel today. We cannot afford to hold a single emotion for long, except loneliness and honor—which is not an emotion, but a state of living.
“Anger, a quick and ready thing, we know well. It is not an abiding and continued feeling. It is the thing that makes a soldier in combat achieve the nearly impossible. But it must be controlled. An angry man has his guard down. He endangers himself and the other members of his ship, or plane, or gun crew or foxhole. There is a word we have in the Army for a guy who is always filled with anger and hatred. It isn’t a pretty word.
“Hatred we know. We are fighting an enemy capable of hatred. They really loathe us and no fooling about that. They hate us with a blind fury: you probably have noticed that they are losing the war, will lose the peace, will lose something the people of a nation should never lose. …”