On Knowing the Enemy

“Because they’re evil,” Mr. Bates replied, and he seemed to think it a definitive answer.

Mr. Magundi, however, was not satisfied. “‘Because they’re evil’ is never an adequate explanation for the actions of our enemies. Until we can understand why our enemies believe their actions to be good, and until we can even see, to a certain extent, why their belief is reasonable, we can certainly never have peace with them, and we probably can’t defeat them.

“The first step in understanding our enemies might be to ask what they want. Our own answer to this question is almost always false, and ridiculously general as well: ‘They want to destroy our way of life,’ we say. Our enemies say the same thing about us. No, we need to imagine what they’re actually thinking if we’re going to get anywhere.

“Perhaps one way of stimulating our own imagination would be to ask ourselves what we want. Here again we’re likely to find that our answer is embarrassingly general. ‘We’re fighting for freedom,’ we’ll say. Oddly enough, our enemies say exactly the same thing.

“If we inquire persistently, we may finally decide that what we really want is for them to leave us alone. Now we might have something to go on. Is it possible for us to imagine that our enemies are a little like us? Do they, perhaps, want to be left alone? And is it possible that there was some way in which we were not leaving them alone that caused them to become our enemies in the first place?

“You’ll never hear a straight answer to these questions, because a straight answer might lead to peace, and peace is not what we want. We no more want simple peace than we want the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers to sit down for a parley in the middle of the field and decide to call it a draw. What we want is victory: our side winning and their side losing. But because people die in wars more commonly than they do in football games, and because we believe that killing innocent people is wrong, we must persuade ourselves that the people we kill really do deserve to die. Why? Because they’re evil.”

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