Building Hope Instead of Collateral Damage

Terry Paulson

9/9/2013 12:01:00 AM - Terry Paulson

As we approach the anniversary of 9/11, the numerous tributes bring back those painful days. We remember the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, the heroic efforts of the first-responders, the people who jumped to their death, and the miraculous stories of the few that somehow survived.

I remember feeling powerless as I sat with strangers watching the day unfold on a hotel lobby television in Niagara Falls. Some gave blood at the local hospital. Most called to assure loved ones miles away.

But the true impact came not from the images of destruction but from the thousands of pictures of loved ones who were missing. The dead were no longer a cold statistic; these were real people with families and friends that would never be the same. People wanted to make a difference. While the politicians planned a military response, record donations came in from around the world to help those struggling to recover from their loss.

Have our military actions in the Middle East made a difference? Despite 12 years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and optimistic hopes for an "Arab Spring," the Middle East remains a frustrating mess. Islamist Sunni and Shiite Arabs seem to be fighting an endless war on any battlefield they can find.

With the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the President and Washington politicians are once again debating how to respond. There's arguments over "red lines," boots on the ground, missiles to degrade Syrian forces, weapons for rebels, regime change, expanded wars, and collateral damage. Complex? Yes. Will our response end the mess in the Middle East? Of course not.

Once again, we as citizens feel powerless as we are left to watch and wait for our politicians to act on what increasingly seems like a no-win situation. Historically, America has intervened militarily to make a difference on the world stage. We have also made mistakes. With our position as the major super power in the world comes the humility and the restraint to know when not to act. America can't "fix" every injustice. In fact, our belated response could make things worse. War sometimes is the answer, but is it now?

Confucius reportedly warned, "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." There are already far too many graves dotting the landscape throughout the Middle East to risk an ill-timed military response that has just added to the fears here and havoc in the Middle East.

Across the Middle East, the upheaval has seen hundreds of Christian churches burned and believers attacked. Small businesses have been trashed. Many responsible citizens are leaving their homelands in search of safety and opportunity for their families.

Many have come to America; some to your neighborhood. The uncertainty and threats of military attacks are creating a very real fear for their loved ones still in harm's way in the Middle East.

I've met a number of Iranian families that have come here legally but now face a variety of asylum/immigration nightmares. They've diligently filled out necessary forms, been fingerprinted, but, in the face of immigration office cutbacks and obstacles, are finding little progress.

A father in one family "temporarily" returned to Iran to handle business and family emergencies. Now, with hostilities on the rise and a possible American attack on Syria, will he be able to return? Collateral damage comes not only from bombs, but from lives put on hold.

Like others, this family came to America for asylum, opportunity, and religious freedom. These immigrants simply want to have their families settled and to become proud contributors to America. Instead of initiating military actions with no clear objective or hope of success, we should focus on making a difference to deserving families one family at a time. Let's support dreams instead of exporting unnecessary missiles that just might add to the many graves already there.