Revisiting Terrorism and the Potential of Tomorrow

This is a piece I first posted on July 10, 2015.  It was originally published in the Dayton Daily News at a time when a wave of terrorism was sweeping Europe.  Sadly, it seems even more appropriate today, so I’m reposting it.

My brother came home safely.

I think about this every time there is another senseless terror attack somewhere in the world. It’s been over two decades now, but the situation is still fresh in my mind.

You see, my brother was serving a four-year commitment in the U.S. Army. And he spent much of it in western Germany, at a time when terrorism was very much a threat in that part of the world.

Of course there were times we were worried. We saw the reports and read the analyses, about aggrieved parties crying out for attention, trying in the most horrible ways to somehow make up for real or imagined wrongs.

And my brother returned safely. He served his time, fulfilling the contract he’d made with the military — an ROTC scholarship in exchange for four years of active duty — then he came home, left active duty, and returned to college.

But terrorists had no way of knowing that. They wouldn’t have known he was not a career Army officer, that he was in effect a student on an extended break, and that he would return to his studies as soon as he’d met his obligation. To them, he would have appeared as just another faceless U.S. soldier, another potential target, another opportunity for getting a macabre point across.

Two years after he returned home he received his doctorate. His field? Agriculture. Growing food. Something we all need. Something that, at any given moment somewhere on Earth, there is never quite enough of. Today he’s a full professor at a major university, teaching and conducting research, well on his way to cementing an international reputation.

I know I’m oversimplifying. His specialty has a technical term. I always listen when he explains and sometimes I read his papers, and I tell him I understand — although I really don’t. But I know him very well, and I know he likes to raise vegetables. So everyone can take my word for it – he’s an expert on growing food.

I’m going to the trouble of explaining all of this because I see two important points everyone needs to consider.

First, my brother has a talent. And like most talents, it isn’t visible from the outside. Fortunately, his is still intact despite having spent a chunk of his life in a strange place where people knew him less well than we do. But many people in London, Baghdad, Kabul, etal, haven’t been as lucky. How much talent has been destroyed there, especially among the children?

Second, even though my brother wore the uniform and officer’s rank, he was not a professional soldier. No, the U.S. Army was not his chosen career. He was in effect simply repaying a debt, then returning to his real vocation. Appearances can deceive. But this fact is never a part of the terror equation.

There is a rule of life some call the Law of Unintended Consequences. It’s time to remind everyone about the horrible by-products of headline grabbing. Granted, there are a lot of things wrong in this world today. There’s injustice and suffering and downright stupidity. Much work needs to be done. But to overcome our problems, we need more talent, not less. We need creating, not destroying; innovative solutions, not mindless mayhem. The eagerness to grab the headlines today can easily destroy the potential of tomorrow.

In short, anyone can terrorize. But how many can help feed the world?

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