I grew up believing in peace, opposing war, all war. I accepted non-violence as the way to go. I was, however, impressed by the Students for a Democratic Society splinter group, The Weathermen. They advocated “bring the war home,” because too many people seemed not to care how many died, when it was elsewhere.
The destruction of the twin World Trade Center Towers was certainly bringing war home. It was hard to reconcile the feelings of anger and revenge with non-violence and peace. I started writing that day, and didn’t stop for weeks. I only wrote a few lines a day. I finished after September 20, 2001, because that is the day President Bush declared war on a thing: terror, and before October 7, 2001, because that is the day the current war in Afghanistan became official. (See: Afghanistan prior to 9/11)
A plane crashing into a building. New York. I’m late for work. I’ll find out what this is about later. At work there is a TV on across the hall in the office. Pictures of a building burning, a plane smashing into a building. World trade center. I’ve been there. Delivered packages in the ’70’s. Toured New York in the ’90’s. Walked the observation deck. Pictures of that building collapsing. Pictures of another building collapsing. Unreal. Surreal. I see but don’t believe. Nonsense. Thousands of people in those buildings, as many as 50,000. It can’t be happening. The eyes take it in, but the mind is numb.
I want to know what happened; how, when, why? I turn on the radio; alternate listening, wandering across the hall to the TV. I see it happen over and over. I want to know how many people were killed, as if it matters how many thousands. The radio brings fresh reports: two planes, three planes, four! It’s too incredible. Hijackers. Terrorists. Religious fanatics. Muslims. Islam. Terrorists. Hijacked. The usually loquacious media commentators repeat the same things over and over. Pictures from the Pentagon. The Pentagon? How in hell do you hit that? Images in my head of protests at the Pentagon. Hated object of military mistakes, military arrogance. Smoke and fire. How many dead? No one knows. Plane down in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania? No word from the President yet, he’s on Air Force One, circling, traveling. He’s in an underground bunker. His life could be in danger. Who speaks for the U.S.? Who did this? Why? No one claims responsibility. This is real terror. The apocalypse? I’m alert. I’m awake.
It’s stopped. All news is an endless replaying of the same images, the same destruction, the same death. No more. I don’t want to see any more. I don’t want to hear anymore. Kill them. Kill the people who did this. Flay them; draw and quarter them. Stop them. Yes, that’s it. We must destroy them before they destroy us. Us? The U.S. My country. The country I live in. The country I share with millions of others. We’re under attack. We must defend ourselves. We must, we must, we must retaliate; we must kill, destroy. Adrenalin pumping; I can’t sleep. How do we answer? Who do we attack? When?
Death. Death on a massive scale. People grieving. There are people grieving around the world. People who were not involved, strangers. They build altars, bring flowers. I see them crying, grieving, and the tears flow down my face uncontrollably. My face is soaked in empathy with people who cry in empathy with the grief of the families of the victims. My emotions pour out. My spirit returns.
No more killing. If we kill innocents, we are no better than the killers. No country has declared war. The terrorists are spread throughout the world. They have declared war against the most powerful nation on our planet. Backfire! The nations of the world express their solidarity with us, with the U.S. Our President declares a war on terrorism. There will be action. We will hunt the terrorists down. We will exact justice. But who will be killed? Poor Afghans? Goat herders and camel riders? They did not do this. A government is in power that says it did not do this, but, but, they’re not sorry about it either. So, do we kill them? Their own people fight against them. Civil war.
Afghans dying already from malnutrition, hunger, disease. The country is impoverished. The borders are closed to the Red Cross, to any foreign aid. The country is sick, maybe dying. Should we help it along? Or, or, or perhaps we should try to help those people. Drop food supplies. Drop newspapers. Drop letters from Muslims around the world who denounce terrorism, who denounce killing as anathema to their religion, to the core of their beliefs. There is no holy war. The terrorists want us to attack Muslims, want us to attack Muslim countries. They expect to split the world into warring religious camps. We cannot play their game. We must not play their deadly game. We must show the world that we are the strongest nation in the world, that we do have the best people. We believe in tolerance, respect for each other. We may not practice our beliefs all the time, but we try. We try. Let us find ways to heal. Let us find ways to defend ourselves without killing others who cannot defend themselves from us. Revenge is sweet, but revenge goes on and on, and on. There have been centuries of revenge already. If we act alone, if we destroy and bomb and kill; if we take one innocent life in the name of revenge, then we will be alone. Terrorism will go on; people around the world will suffer. Let us work with the nations of our world to solve this crime, to stop it from ever happening again. Let us unite with former enemies, with Libya and Cuba and Russia, and China, and all of our friends and allies in the world. Together we can stop terrorism once and for all. Together we can root out the causes of terror: the distrust, the injustice, the fear, the poverty, and the unreasoning hatred of those who are different. It is our world. We are the people of the Earth. We are one.
We are one.
We are one.