(On July 1, Harvest House released my newest book, The Healing Power of Forgiveness.)
Thursday was bright and sunny in Oak Park so we sat down on a bench in Scoville Park. My friend drank a smoothie and I had some bottled water. Nearby several sunbathers lay stretched out on blankets not far from the World War I memorial that contains the names of all the Oak Park men who served in "The Great War," including Oak Park's most famous son, Ernest Hemingway. Nearby we saw people entering and leaving the brand-new public library that faces the park from the west. Two women in their twenties walked by chatting about this and that. A man with a backpack looked back at us as he passed our bench. A steady stream of cars drove through the intersection of Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street.
For almost an hour we sat on the bench and watched the passing parade. It was a perfect day in Oak Park, hot but not too hot, a great day to talk to a friend. Four hours earlier I heard the news about the bombings in London. What did my friend think? His opinion matters because he has served his country in many parts of the world. He knows what combat is like because he has been under fire many times. He understands what death means because he has seen it happen to his friends and to his enemies. He understands. Beyond his active duty in the service, he served in the national security arena in ways that are only vaguely known to me.
Nothing that happened in London surprised him. It was just a matter of time, he said. How difficult would it be for a terrorist to put a bomb on public transportation in Chicago? He laughed and said it would be child's play. Since Thursday they have upped security in mass transit across America but everyone knows they can't keep it at a high level forever. My friend said that it would be easy for someone to get on a train or a bus somewhere outside of downtown Chicago and leave a satchel with a small bomb. Suicide bombers pose a bigger threat. How do you stop someone who is willing to die in order to kill you? That's more than a rhetorical question. It lies at the heart of the problem facing the West.
Because we live in a free society, we aren't willing to put up with security searches every time we board a train or a bus. And with so many stops in a typical metro system, it isn't practical anyway.
My friend said that Americans are afraid to die. He was not referring to the brave men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. Many of them have already made the supreme sacrifice since 9/11. No, he was talking about us, you and me, Americans in general. Looking around the park, he waved his arm in a sweeping motion. I saw the sunbathers, people strolling on the plaza in front of the beautiful new library, men and women walking along Lake Street, drivers talking on cell phones as they hurried along Lake Street. "Why would you want to give this up? This is heaven already." The poorest person in America is better off than a poor person almost anywhere else in the world. And most of us are virtual millionaires by comparison. We have it so good that we can't give it up, he said. We're already in heaven, or so we think, and that's why we're afraid to die. The terrorists know it, and they aren't afraid to die.
What's the answer? Speaking with the wisdom gained from the battlefield, my friend looked off into the distance and said, "We have to kill them before they kill us. But we're not willing to be as brutal as they are." He said we'll have to fight with the same tenacity we used against the Japanese soldiers in World War II. This isn't a fair fight and the usual rules don't apply.
My friend said his only surprise is that a similar attack hasn't happened in America since 9/11.
It's only a matter of time, he said. Then he was silent.
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