Pluralism at Ground Zero

During my lifetime, our foreign policy has been defined by two wars: a cold one with Soviet-style Communism and a hot one with Islamic-style terrorism. Neither kind of war is good, but cold is better. We have no monuments, sites, or dates to honor American victims who died on our soil because of the Cold War. That’s why it was called “cold.”

This is not in any way a justification for the horrible dictatorships in the Soviet Union. That regime had much in common with many Mideast countries: an ideology that suppressed dissent and brutalized its citizens; old men holding onto power and eliminating rivals at any cost; lack of human rights or freedom of conscience.

There are differences, too. Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) was the doctrine that assumed neither the Soviet Union nor the United States would launch its nuclear weaponry on the other, for fear of retaliation in which millions of its own citizens would be destroyed. Leaders of both superpowers preferred life to death. I’d be more concerned today about the efficacy of a MAD doctrine with a theocracy, especially when we’ve seen suicide-bomber citizens happily give their lives to kill innocent civilians because they expected rewards for their actions in an imagined afterlife.

During the hateful McCarthy era witch-hunts, many lives of decent Americans were damaged through accusations of not being anti-Communist enough. Collateral damage also occurred by those who wanted to distinguish the United States from “Godless Communism.” The words “under God” were added to our pledge of allegiance, turning a secular and unifying pledge into a religious and divisive one. This melding of God and Country resulted in many of us who believe in no gods feeling less patriotic. Our wonderful unifying motto E pluribus unum (Out of many, one), adopted in 1782, was changed in 1956 to In God we Trust, which excludes more than 16 percent of Americans without such trust.

The 9-11 attack was a faith-based initiative, conceived and carried out by people radicalized in Saudi Arabia who became more radicalized in Afghanistan. I could support either of two different types of remembrance ceremonies that would distinguish us from those theocrats who attacked us.

The first would be to have a completely secular ceremony in this secular country, unheard of in theocracies. The second would be to allow all groups to participate in a diverse country that does not favor any one religion over another religion or religion in general over non-religion. We could have a remembrance ceremony that includes Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Humanists, Atheists, and any other group that wishes to participate in unifying people of all faiths and none. In other words, E pluribus unum.

This just might help us turn the worst of times into the best of times.