Pausing for a view from the cliff of war

One of the less original high-level responses to Sept. 11 is the promise of retribution and unity. But to herds of buffalo induced to run off the edges of cliffs, or to waves of lemmings locked on course for the sea, unity is a dubious distinction. I find our own course disconcerting and sad - but to question our direction seems almost an act of treason in the turbulent atmosphere of retribution. As Washington plots the script to Gulf War II - or worse - it is critical to ask serious questions. President Bush's rhetoric is not helping us formulate those penetrating questions. We might want the terrorists dead or alive; we might need to smoke them out and crush them; but what we desperately need now is the right to stop and think.

John Liechty Muscat, Oman

As a World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific, I know the horror of war firsthand. Our great victory in that "good" war should not be twisted into inspiration for massive military action now. We must root out terrorists everywhere - not wipe out ordinary people anywhere. Abraham Lincoln warned that our nation could not endure half slave and half free. So, too, our world cannot endure, divided against itself into haves and have-nots. The only war worthy of our talent, time, and lives is a war against suffering.

Take the advice of this old soldier before I, too, fade away. Lashing out doesn't take half the courage of quelling vengeance. Fighting wars doesn't take one-tenth the intelligence of creating a harmonious, prosperous world. America's challenge as the only remaining superpower is to sow seeds of peace, forgiveness, and fairness for the human family. Terrorism cannot flourish among people free from hunger, torture, ignorance, tyranny, and all the other evils in our world.

Maurice Sher Palm Springs, Calif.

I am wary of outward show - whether patriotism, wealth, or government unity. True love of country and our Constitution is displayed every hour by our attitudes. I served in World War II as a WAC (Women's Army Corps), but am now a pacifist. Can I mourn our loved ones at the World Trade Center and ignore children dying of starvation while we build and sell armaments? True understanding and compromise with all countries may not seem an acceptable response to our tragedy. But what military action will cost us - in fear, hate, and loss of life, - is a prospect worth pondering before it happens.

Mary Louise Bosco Santa Rosa, Calif.

Peace is a powerful idea, and I don't believe any reasonable person desires war over peace. But I fail to see how peace will bring the terrorists to justice, as peace can be achieved only by enlightened people who understand the value of life.

Up to now, the US has responded peacefully, asking that terrorists be brought to justice. Up to now, peace has not prevailed.

Samuel Reeve Pleasanton, Calif.

Finding value in art and 'ordinary' life

On the morning of Sept. 11, as I met with guests in the Norman Rockwell Museum, we harbored a sense that art seemed nonessential in a shattered universe. Images of our daily lives seemed frivolous against the magnitude of sorrow descending on the world.

But as we continued looking at paintings, we remembered that ordinary moments remain important in the face of the incomprehensible. Images of democracy, tolerance, respect, and kindness can carry us through this crisis. As we stand strong in the face of evil, our cultural heritage reminds us of our strengths as a nation, and can help us heal.

Laurie Norton Moffatt Stockbridge, Mass.

Director, The Norman Rockwell Museum

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