This morning, halfway between the winter solstice--that day with the least light and the most darkness of the year--and Christmas, my thoughts drifted to a scene two millennia and half a world removed. I thought of the story, now so familiar as to be banal and uncomprehended, of the infant son of two peasants lying helplessly in a cold barn. Soon after, we're told, his family had to flee to avoid the wrathful edict of a powerful ruler. And even now, millions in Afghanistan flee the bombs, shiver in the cold, and hunger not only for food, but for peace and justice.
We smugly sit in our warm and festively decorated homes, gorging ourselves on delicious food, and congratulate ourselves on our patriotism, our faith, and our good will. Our leaders tell us that our bombs and bullets will make us safe, that starving half a million Iraqi children is "worth the price," in Ms. Albright's words, of isolating their brutal and vicious leader. They tell us that turning Afghanistan over to gangs of warlords and drug traffickers who have replaced extreme and violent theocrats is a step forward. They tell us that our sponsorship of repressive and murderous governments is in our national interest. They tell us that our status as the world's leading merchants of the technologies of death and destruction is good for our economy, while telling us that those producing weapons of mass destruction abroad should be our next targets. They tell us that dropping peanut butter sandwiches and Pop Tarts to 0.5% of those whose vital food supplies we have disrupted shows our concern for the innocent. They tell us that littering the ground with unexploded cluster bomblets, which will kill and maim for decades to come, is necessary to save us from a worldwide band of secretive terrorists. They tell us that there was no alternative to war, and that our past and continuing injustices and exploitation in the region play no role in the hatred of us so palpable now. And we believe it.
But then my thoughts drift back to that baby, who grew up to tell us not to love just our neighbors, but our enemies, and that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. He taught us to feed the hungry, care for the poor, and to share what we have with others. And we didn't believe it.
In this period of greatest darkness, in our hearts as well as our skies, perhaps we'll look for the light and find within ourselves the vision to see the ugly truth, the courage to acknowledge it, and the will to do better. It is only then that we say, with the angels, "Peace on Earth and good will to humankind."
Brian W. Cobb, M.D. is an internist working at a correctional facility in southwest Florida.