“The first time the first woman had a chance to say no against war she should say it.” – Jeanette Rankin

Behold the anti-war sentiments of this Congresswoman from Montana whose pacifist ideals are nowhere to be seen nor heard in recent days. This often forgotten former Congresswoman from Montana voted against entry into both World War I and World War II, a risky gamble for peace in this war-hawk nation. Yet, believing war was not the answer and willing to take a stand in the face of weighty opposition to remain true to her beliefs, Ms. Rankin cast her vote for peace. Last week, our modern-day Jeannette Rankin, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), cast the only dissenting vote against legislation giving President Bush the authorization to wage military war against terrorism. The other politicians in our country would do well to pause in silence for a moment and listen to the sounds of conscience which resonate among the peaceloving people in the United States.

What I find remarkable in the aftermath of the Tuesday’s devastating events is that our outspoken government leaders, especially our President, have maintained a hate-filled unilateral front using language of retaliation and revenge for the perpetrators and the country harboring them and abetting their activities. The mainstream media has reported precious little from peace groups who represent the wishes of many Americans who think that military action is not the only valid response to this tragic situation. We are continually told that more bloodshed will make us feel better. If we can beat up on some other nation’s innocents, it will ease our pain here. Misery loves company.

The paradigm has already been set up: if you call for peace, for reconciliation and for forgiveness, you are anti-American. You are unaligned with the multitudes of grieving families across our nation and empathize too much with the enemy, who deserves no mercy. Can we be pro-peace and still be true to our country? Can we call for compassion and nonviolent responses to a tragedy this terrible? Revenge and retaliation have been perverted to mean justice, and the American public ought to be offered other options than the militaristic, one-sided vengeance which our leaders have set before us. How can our leaders call for tolerance toward Arab-Americans in our own country and in the same breath blast Arab countries with unrelenting rhetoric of retaliatory attacks?

After all, we are all human beings, right? Nationalities are man-made creations, as are national borders. In essence, we are plotting the destruction of our own species. Is our national policy toward foreigners nothing than a mirror held up to the face of our own self-hatred? I would like to believe that the good people of America can grieve together during this time of intense loss and still not wish to create more tragedy anywhere else on our planet.

Within the boundaries of the United States, we house many ideologies, many faith traditions, many races, and many ethnicities. Should we be so myopic to believe that there is only one acceptable response to the terrorist attacks on which all varieties of Americans concur? Does everyone want an all-out war? Many high school students in recent days have been envisioning alternative structures of government more compatible with the principles of nonviolence. Many high school students believe that meeting hate with hate multiplies hate, as first written by Martin Luther King, Jr., and that, quoting Gandhi, an eye for an eye and the world goes blind. Are these students too young and idealistic to dream of a world where their future is not jeopardized? Is their peace studies class teaching them blind optimism? They don’t think so.

Our President says he would like to eradicate the evil in the world. Let’s take him up on this idea. Let’s stop funding the war on Palestine. Let’s stop bombing Iraq every week. Let’s stop fueling the fires of conflict in Colombia. Let’s provide healthcare to the 25% of children in America who live in poverty. Let’s teach our children to get along rather than to harbor hatred toward their enemies. Let’s take our role as the world’s superpower seriously and respond to these senseless events with dignity and restraint.

Can we challenge our government to find a creative and meaningful way to respond to this violence while caring for our wounded nation?

*Leah Wells is Peace Education Coordinator at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.