Strange word to have in a president's inaugural address, isn't it? Curiosity...
In Errol Morris' documentary The Fog of War, Robert S. McNamara stares straight into the camera. MacNamara, who was Secretary of Defense for a number of critical years during the Vietnam War, talks about nearly coming to blows with the former Defense Minister of North Vietnam. Decades after the war these two old men were at a dinner. The Defense Minister asked McNamara why the U.S. had fought his people so hard for so long. McNamara replied, "Our hope was to keep them from falling under the domination of Communist China. Why did your people fight Americans so hard?" The Defense Minister was incredulous. "My people had been fighting the Chinese for a thousand years. We were fighting for national unification of North and South Vietnam. First we had to drive out the French colonizers. Then America tried to colonize us. You forced us to seek help from our Chinese enemies."
How could we not have understood this? Did we so misunderstand our enemy? Were we so uncurious?
I'm curious. The U.S. invaded Iraq after 9/11. It became the major front in the war on terrorism. "We have to fight them there so that we don't have to fight them here," we said. Only problem is that nearly all the 9/11 plotters and attackers came from Saudi Arabia, not Iraq. Ooops!
Funny. I've heard many people, many Christian people espcecially, agonize over why anyone would attack the U.S. And how could anyone strap explosives onto a person? How could anyone become a homicide bomber, even killing his own people? Why are all those Muslims so backward and bloodthirsty?
Since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 when Americans were held hostage for 444 days, our attention has been focused on Muslim militants and extremists. And especially since 9/11. Over the years I've heard many of my fellow citizens talk about what we need to do to them. Nuclear weapons are frequently mentioned.
Many people know that Jean and I lived in a Muslim country for over 2-1/2 years. Hundreds actually, in workplaces and churches. Not one--family members included-- not a single one has ever asked, "You've lived there. What makes these people so crazy? Why do they act this way?"
Have we so little curiosity? Or do we think we already know the answer, or that the answer doesn't really matter? Were our minds made up before they were ever made?
Far too much history lies behind the events of recent years to go into it here. But consider this, how could 20th-century Germans do what they did? These are my own people by blood. They were educated, literate people, nearly all Christians, either Protestant or Catholic. They were a sophisticated people who had contributed so much to science, mathematics, physics, anthropology, art, architecture, literature, chemistry, metallurgy, manufacturing, optics, medicine, music, poetry, philosophy and theology. What made them do it? What made them even capable?
What made white Anglo-Saxon Christians in our own country capable of putting on hoods and hanging people in cold blood, or burning down Christian churches, or tying people to trucks and dragging them to death, sicking dogs on them or blasting them with fire hoses? What about Wounded Knee and the Trail of Tears?
Have we forgotten the Inquisition, the Thirty Years' War, Sarajevo, Srbrenica? And long before terrorism ever became synonymous with Islamic militants in the Western mind, it was synonymous with Protestant Christians and Catholic Christians in Northern Ireland, 99% of whom were surely baptized. But not converted.
My answers? Poverty. Fear. Ignorance. For sure, ignorance. Feeling threatened by anyone or anything. And using religion as a tool instead of being humbled and reformed by it. That's all I can figure out.
Is that happening anywhere in the world today? Could it happen here? Again? De we even have enough curiosity to ask? What blood-curdling risks do we take when we have no curiosity?