I'm scared and heart-broken. September 11th shattered my feeling of invincibility and immunity that came with being an American. It is not just the repeated showings of jetliners disappearing into skyscrapers in a fiery show of human malice that scares me; it is the inevitable reaction of the world's only superpower. We are on the brink of war against an enemy we can't identify except by the abstract name of "terrorism." I look around at the hundreds of young lives on campus and I'm scared for them. Over the past 100 years each generation in the U.S. has had its enemy: the Germans from 1917-18, then again from 1941-45, the Koreans in the 50's, the Viet Cong in the 60's and 70's, anyone who annoyed Reagan in the 80's, and the Iraqis in the 90's. Now this generation has its enemy.
But it's different this time; never before has our nation endured a direct hit on continental soil. With the images of our greatest capitalistic and military symbols in ruins, the bodies of our fellow friends and citizens buried in the ash and rubble, and the tears of distraught family members bombarding us day in and day out on television, the cry for revenge is a cacophony of patriotism. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and our political leaders are exploiting this fact. Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, required reading in most colleges and universities across the country, contends in the Los Angeles Times, "They have learned nothing, absolutely nothing, from the history of the 20th century, from a hundred years of retaliation, vengeance, war, a hundred years of terrorism and counterterrorism, of violence met with violence in an unending cycle of stupidity."
The ironic nature of this country is reflected in the manner in which the lone congressional naysayer was treated after she cast her vote: a deluge of e-mails that harshly criticized her decision, even some threatening her life. But this is hatred American style. We can kill an innocent store clerk because he looks Middle-Eastern (no matter that he is a Coptic Christian from Egypt). So much for the famous American tolerance. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee wrote that a man with a Bible in his hand can be more dangerous than a man with a whiskey bottle. Exchange the word "Bible" for "Koran" and the truth is evident. But isn't the same true about a man with an American flag in his hand? I didn't see any politicians condemning this murder as an act of war on Freedom.
So what should our reaction be? Step back for a moment to the early years of 20th century America when we had an opportunity to change the future. Imagine1916: Woodrow Wilson was president, having been recently re-elected under the slogan that he had "kept us out of war." Even while the German U-boats torpedoed military and civilian ships in the Atlantic (the most famous being the Lusitania in 1915 with 100 Americans on board), Wilson was the quintessential pacifist; words against war were not merely empty political rhetoric thrown about to win office but deeply held philosophy. Only after he learned that England was flat broke and on the verge of collapse did an agonized Wilson make the fateful decision to break the United Sates out of its isolationist shell. So in 1917 the brash American soldiers sailed across the pond and encountered the carnage Europeans had called life for three years.
After the Armistice in 1918, Wilson unveiled a deeply thought-out plan to eliminate war forever. He joined the other leaders of Europe to present his "Fourteen Points" and his architecture for the League of Nations. Wilson's reason for war was not victory but peace, a distinction that may be negligible to the layman but was the difference to the 28th president. But for the leaders of a devastated Europe victory meant the opportunity for revenge, retribution for the millions lost and cities ravaged. So, against President Wilson's advice, suffocating penalties were handed out, leading most notably to the economic enslavement of Germany. Now this may seem reasonable considering they were an aggressor, but one of the men living in these bleak days was a young corporal twice awarded the Iron Cross named Adolph Hitler.
So we have another embittered demagogue in Osama bin Laden. Yes, we can capture him and prosecute or kill him for crimes against the U.S., but this will not end the animosity and hatred aimed at us that manifested itself in the September 11th attacks. When you fight fire with fire, the result is a bigger fire. "We cannot be secure so long as we use our national wealth for guns, planes, bombs and nuclear weapons to maintain our position as a military superpower," Zinn argues. "We should use that wealth instead to deal with poverty and sickness in other parts of the world where desperation breeds resentment."
I hope that George W. Bush is a leader who strives for healing, not more destruction. Unfortunately, this may be my idealism speaking since the president has set the scene for World War III with his "You're either with us or you're against us" statement in his message to the American people. This arrogant demand to fall into line behind us is precisely the reason so much of the world either holds us in great disdain or just flat out hates us.
Does anyone care that there is a current mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of impoverished Afghans because the Great American War Machine is in motion? If we wipe out millions of Afghans in order to deliver the head of Osama bin Laden on a platter, will this pacify the evident bloodlust of an emotionally and physically wounded nation? If not, how many other nations will pay the price in blood and poverty for harboring terrorists? Is this the 21st century price of freedom?
It has been argued that members of the anti-war movement (derogatorily referred to as "peaceniks") have failed to properly acknowledge the extent of America's loss. I disagree. While I respect and applaud the many memorials, candle-light vigils, and fundraisers held for the victims and families of all directly affected, we must also direct some of this energy in a manner to help us now and after. As we remember the policemen and firemen who perished in the twin towers in their attempts to help people, we must follow in their footsteps by saving another generation of innocents from the carnage of war. It is a time for healing.
21 September 2001