On Tuesday morning, during his historic visit to Cuba, President Obama briefly addressed the horrifying terrorist attacks in Brussels that have left at least 34 people dead and well more than 100 wounded. Here's what Obama said, in its entirety:
Before I begin, please indulge me, I want to comment on the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Brussels. The thoughts and the prayers of the American people are with the people of Belgium, and we stand in solidarity with them in condemning these outrageous attacks against innocent people. We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally Belgium in bringing to justice those who are responsible. This is yet another reminder that the world must unite. We must be together regardless of nationality, or race, or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism. We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world. [Obama]
This was not nearly enough. If I were Obama's speechwriter, here are the words I would have given him.
My fellow Americans:
It was here, in Cuba, where the world almost came to an end. Just off these shores, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a confrontation that marked our closest approach to willful nuclear war.
There are many reasons humankind came so near to Armageddon. Ideology and fanaticism played a driving role. But it is said that evil needs only that good people do nothing. It is less often asked why we so often look in the mirror and see a good person yet do nothing.
It is uncomfortable, even painful, to raise this question. But the world wars of the 20th century, and the Cold War after it, trace their roots to a rot at the heart of the human soul — even, perhaps especially, the soul of the person who looks in the mirror, who looks on all that he or she has made, and says it is good.
For today, as in those days, a terrible doubt besets us. We find ourselves so often at ease, in plenty, yet alienated from conviction and uncertain about what is to come. Afraid of slipping back into the old ways, we fear the momentousness of choosing a particular future, setting a particular aim.
I am not talking about the kind of grand national or international projects that some say will do our thinking and feeling for us. I am talking about what kind of virtue, what kind of culture, what kind of children we wish to create and sustain. Without any clear picture of who and where we are, how can we imagine who and where we will be?
Our embarrassed silence in the face of these fundamental issues hands the initiative, and the effectual legitimacy, to a certain kind of deep social rot. The hearts and minds of citizens grow slack and complicit in the death of their fellows as much as in the death of their future. What evil truly needs is people who think they are good but in no particular way, only in the sense that they are not bad.
A mere sense of goodness is not enough to draw others or ourselves to goodness. A mere sense of goodness — vague, abstract, floating over the world — is untethered from reality, where a corresponding sense of badness takes hold.
Perhaps, a person can think to themselves, I am not personally detonating a suicide vest, slaughtering the innocent, killing children. But such is the world we live in. Who am I to play a part in fighting problems that seem too vast and de-centered for any one person to fight?
It is not your "fault," you tell yourself, that the religion of Mohammad is rotting, or that the religion of Christ has decayed. It is not your "fault" that so many people are filled not only with overt hatred but a covert despair, far more endemic than the good people of the world are willing to admit.
But the truth is that it is your responsibility. And it is the responsibility of the good people of the world to look in the mirror and see what is there that is not good — the fear of the future, the fear of daring to remove our great uncertainty about what we have made of this world and what we can make.
Now, there are those who say that Islam is a special problem. If it were, in the traditional sense, it would be invading its neighbors as in days of old, banners flying. Today, the darkness drawing Islam down is proof that this ancient religion is now especially vulnerable to a larger soul sickness eating away at so many of us, regardless of creed.
Not long ago, Christianity, too, succumbed to a soul sickness in much of the world. All too often, what has replaced it is exactly the kind of fearful unknown and mere sense of goodness that has allowed the rot to take such hold in the Muslim and Western worlds.
Police and law enforcement officials, no less than wars and warriors, will continue to play a proud and grave role in fighting the perpetrators of terrorism. But just as soul sickness cannot simply be bombed away, it cannot be arrested or banned. It is not enough for us to feel that we are good or to wish for good.
As well as daring to fight, we must dare to love — our country, our people, our neighbors, our children. Only then can we wage war with firmness in the right. And only then can we love our future.