When I first awoke on Tuesday, 11 September 2001 and began watching from the West Coast the events unfolding in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, I had a variety of reactions. While the tragedy which occurred in the US against innocent people is unjustifiable by any means, US citizens and citizens around the world must seize this opportunity to examine the root causes of violence and respond with redoubled efforts to create a truly just and peaceful world for all human beings.
My first reaction was “What a way to celebrate the International Day of Peace!” But not once during the course of the day did I hear media make mention that it was in fact the International Day of Peace until a tiny scroll message announced it at 9:30 p.m. pacific time, nearly thirteen hours after the first crash.
I knew from the first sight that I saw on the television that as a peace activist and a US citizen, the events would greatly alter my life. All of the US media reports from the first moment and continuing voiced a sense of resurgent nationalism ever apparent in the minds of Americans. Americans on television and in the papers cried out for revenge and retaliation mirroring the calls from the US government and military. I thought to myself, “How will people in the US respond to the message of peace? How will people listen to the voice of non-violence?” Headline after headline, news story after news story reiterated the need for justice, not true justice, but a perverted justice based on military retaliation.
My heart went out to the victims of the acts of violence committed that day. But even more so, my heart went out to victims of violence everywhere around the world. I realized how self-centered and naive we are in the US. Every day, violence is a daily occurrence in many countries around the world. Very few acknowledge their suffering. Some 40,000 children die every day from malnutrition, where is the peace and justice in that? Immediately, heads of state around the world responded to the events in the US, allying with the government and military’s plans to seek out and take revenge upon those responsible for the acts. Organizations and individuals also sent messages of solidarity and condolences to the people of the US. While I appreciated these messages, at the same time I was saddened to think of all victims of violence around the world who do not receive condolences and solidarity, let alone acknowledgement of their struggle for survival. What makes the loss of American lives more valuable than the loss of lives in other parts of the world? Violence has become a means by which we place value on human life and the environment. We consider certain losses justifiable so that 20 percent of the world’s population can exploit 80 percent of its wealth.
The government and military also immediately accused a scapegoat and the media reported this person and his affiliates to the American people, feeding into the frenzy and anger of a nation too blinded by the devastating images before our eyes to see reality. If in fact, the acts of violence were committed by terrorists, weren’t we the party responsible for creating them? How could we not know that the seeds we sowed during the Cold War, the seeds we continued to sow after the dissolution of the USSR would not come back to haunt us? How can we be so selfish as a society to believe that our consumption and way of life is a right only we should enjoy? Why is that we are the only ones in the world that should enjoy it?
Many have called the events a “collective loss of innocence” in this country as have been other historical moments, such as the two World Wars, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the Korean Crisis and the Cold War. I hope that instead we would stop and re-evaluate the 11 September events as a collective loss of ignorance. After the dissolution of the USSR, the US was under the impression that it had “triumphed” over the “evils” of communism. But we did not stop think about the policies we instituted around the world in the name of democratic ideology, an ideology funded and backed by capitalism and militarism. At the end of the Cold War, the US was presented with a great opportunity to be a true leader, to take the lead in negotiations for the abolition of nuclear weapons, to reduce our reliance on military might, to decrease the vast amount of money spent on defense, to redefine global security in terms of human and environmental needs rather than in terms of military superiority. But we chose not to take this role. Instead, we continue to plunder the environment, to consume vast amount of the precious Earth’s resources, to ignore human suffering beyond our “national” borders.
Younger generations in the US do not understand why this event occurred. We do not recall the perceived threat of communism of the Cold War or the duck and cover drills practiced in the event of a nuclear strike. We do not recall protesting the Vietnam War. We do not recall the Korean War or the Cuban Missile Crisis. We do not remember JFK’s assassination. We have only read of these events in textbooks. This US administration and military quickly called the 11 September acts, “acts of war.” The military-corporate-education complex needs US citizens, particularly younger generations, to live in fear of a perceived threat, a threat that has been to some extent been missing since the end of the Cold War. Without a perceived threat, how can they justify increased military spending? How else can they justify “controlling and dominating” the Earth and Outer Space because of the widening gap between the “haves and the have-nots” which “threaten” US economic interests here and abroad? How else can they justify missile defense systems, systems which would have rendered useless in the events of 11 September? How else can they justify developing and deploying the B61-11, a new nuclear weapon that makes the use of nuclear weapons more likely in the future of conflict despite international obligations to abolish nuclear weapons?
The existence of war, nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction evidence our insecurity and our inability to understand how our actions affect others. As human beings, we desire to be secure, yet we have some how deemed it in our nature to live in fear of each other and therefore we try to justify our urge to resolve conflicts through violent means. We must remember our commonality and our humanity and be mindful not to demonize any peoples based on ethnicity, religion, nationality and gender. We must put a stop to nationalism and hatred. We must not allow prejudice into our hearts and minds.
Many analysts and editorialists have called the 11 September events a “defining moment” in this country’s history. I hope that indeed it will be a defining moment in American history in that we as a nation will stop to think about why such an event occurred here. We as citizens are responsible for the actions of our government and military. As a democracy, we elect our leaders. Governments only have the right to govern based on the will of the people they govern. It must be our will as individuals to achieve peace and we must hold our governments responsible to ensure the maintenance of peace for all peoples. We should call upon our leaders to examine the policies we have created and institute new policies that will preclude the use of violence and loss of life in the future. Rather than withdrawing from international establishments and obligations as the current administration is doing, the US should engage in the international community to promote cooperation and not rely on military might as the principal means of solving conflict. The US should work collaboratively with the global community to address the underlying causes of violence and promote non-violent cooperative measures to resolve conflict.
Our only hope is to educate ourselves and future generations that all humans deserve to live with dignity, compassion and respect for one another and the environment, and that humans must use the Earth’s precious resources constructively and sustainably. Martin Luther King, Jr. Stated, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. We must be cognizant of the inter-relatedness of all communities and peoples. Though cultures and traditions may vary, and though we are all individually unique, we are united by our humanity. We are all brothers and sisters of one human family and we must learn to live with each other and respect our differences. We must keep our impoverished brothers and sisters who live in the developing world in our conscience. With these ideals and principles, the human family can coexist harmoniously with each other and the Earth, making a peaceful world possible.