Stephen Kent

Other than the Syrians, who were spared this month from scanning their skies for incoming missiles, no one was more relieved by the stand-down by the United States than members of Congress, who escaped the tough vote on authorizing a military attack.

The eleventh-hour development that substituted diplomacy for military intervention may be seen by history as a watershed moment in how citizens can influence government decisions. After decades of previous administrations whipping up war frenzy for questionable goals on dubious evidence, an administration finally seems to have gotten it right.

The democracy movement in the Middle East when people demanded freedom was dubbed the Arab Spring. The moment in time when the U.S. government listened to its citizens may become known as the “USA Fall.”

The remarkable thing about the current affair is how quickly public opinion coalesced into a strong feeling against military intervention in Syria. There were marches, peaceful gatherings, prayers throughout the United States and the world. Unlike the Arab Spring, our recent sentiment against war involved no riots, firebombs or gunfire to make the point.

Polls showed as many as 70 percent of Americans opposed an attack. Those in Congress who dared to express an opinion also showed little enthusiasm to approve an attack. Many commentators said the polls showed that “Americans are weary of war.”

The primary thing to remember is that violence is not the answer.

The stated goal was a questionable one: to “punish” Syrian President Bashar Assad for employing chemical weapons. It was not proposed to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people. Who or what gives the United States — the only country to ever employ nuclear weapons, one with few qualms about using napalm to burn people alive in another war — the right to “punish”?

It was ironic that the presidential address announcing the stand-down was delivered on the eve of the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks meant to “punish” the United States for perceived crimes.

The chemical attacks are an atrocity. But it seems only reasonable that punishment should be doled out to the person responsible for the attacks, sparing civilians who could die as “collateral damage” during an attack.

Perhaps it was more than a coincidence that the rapidly moving events that held off a military attack occurred after a prayer vigil, part of a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria called by Pope Francis.

“Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive toward others, conquer your deadly reasoning and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation,” the pope said Sept. 7 before an estimated 100,000 people in St. Peter’s Square.

The remarkable days of September rekindled memories of that anthem of Vietnam days. “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”

It was not heeded then. It was not heeded during the invasion of Iraq. Now that peace finally has been given a chance, there can be new hope that this time it will prevail.

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Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. He can be contacted at: considersk@gmail.com.