Executing Righteous Wrath

  "We learned in our class that if you believe in peace, you can stay alive," said the eleven-year-old boy. "We learned that you should always find a peaceful way to solve your problems because you should never be violent." Ironically, the boy lives a stone's throw from the Pentagon, where more than a hundred people, peacefully going about their business, were murdered by terrorists. I wish peace-loving people could always "stay alive," but they don't. So why do teachers persist in telling kids otherwise? In his new book, Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism, my friend, Bill Bennett, writes that teachers like these are seeking to "prevent another generation of young people from learning the proper uses of righteous anger." The very idea that rage can be righteous has become a foreign concept. And Bennett wants to know why, in the wake of September 11, the country's elites "seem to back away from any hint of righteous anger as if it were some kind of poisonous snake? Why wasn't anger itself considered a moral response to the unprovoked attack on September 11?" In part, he says, it's because the denigration of righteous wrath is linked to darker goals. By casting a shadow of moral doubt over justified anger secular liberals in the press and academia are "sowing and reinforcing doubt" about America's purposes. These elites embrace an ideology, rooted in the Vietnam era, that sees America as an imperialistic power intent on imposing its will on others. Moreover, not believing in the Fall, they see all wars as the result of misunderstandings. They believe all violence is wrong and that wars never solve anything. To their way of thinking, America's motives cannot be trusted; our "jingoistic aggression", Bennett writes, can "only be checked by a countercommitment to nonviolence." Instead of getting angry with terrorists or waging another "imperialistic" war, we should blame ourselves -- figure out what we did to make them so mad. This absurd, anti-American view has so permeated our culture that many citizens hesitated to express anger over the terror attacks. But the morality of righteous wrath has been accepted throughout history as necessary for justice. "As the ancients recognized," Bennett notes, "anger is a necessary power of the soul, intimately connected with the passion for justice." The demand that we stifle our rage and negotiate with fanatics bent on wiping us out is thus immoral because it's a denial of justice. And so teaching kids that all violence is wrong is morally bankrupt. "If no distinction is made among kinds of 'peace,'" Bennett warns, "children are deprived of the tools they require to distinguish a just from an unjust peace ([for example,] peace with honor from the peace of the grave.) They are robbed of the oldest and most necessary wisdom of the race, which is that some things are worth fighting and dying for." We need to teach our kids why social liberals -- including, sometimes, their teachers -- claim that all violence and anger are wrong: It's an expression of hostility toward America itself and an inadequate understanding of sin and the need for justice. And we must make sure that they know why -- in the face of great evil -- getting angry isn't wrong. It's the necessary prologue to justice. For further reading: William Bennett, Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism (Doubleday, 2002).    


Chuck Colson



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