How I Became a Peace Activist

Eight years ago this morning, I became a peace activist.

Without a doubt, September 11, 2001 is the defining moment of our generation. Millions watched on tv as two planes did the unthinkable and flew into the World Trade Center. Guts were wrenched, lives were lost, and our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and "On Terror" were launched. In my life, it was the moment that my priorities shifted and I tuned into what I think is my purpose on this earth ... to work for peace in the little ways I can.

I was in Portland, Oregon that morning getting ready for work and listening to NPR as was my routine. As I stood in the bathroom brushing my teeth, the radio announcer suddenly lost the ability to speak. I knew something was wrong in the world and rushed to turn on the tv, just in time to see the 2nd plane hit.

In a daze, I somehow found my way to work. My heart was broken, and I couldn't help but think that more death and destruction would follow as our country tried to make sense of it all and look for revenge. An eye or an eye, a tooth for a tooth, your children must die because mine did. What I didn't expect was that those around me, those I worked with and even close friends would be catching the revenge bug. I felt so out of place, so out of tune with my surroundings. All of my coworkers' cubicles were festooned with American Flag signs and revenge filled slogans ... I made my own sign with a peace dove. Whenever I opened my mouth and talked about my concerns that more innocent lives would be lost across the globe in retaliation, people looked at me like I had two heads. What kind of American was I?

Luckily for me (and I suspect it was more God than luck), I found my way into two communities where I didn't feel like a freak for my desire to work for peace. First, an artist friend of mine shared her vision to help get this advertisement on the sides of buses. It features a beautiful picture of some Afghan children and a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: "When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent misery rather than to avenge it?". It completely captured the movement of my own heart in those dark days. I offered to help her raise money to get the ad on the buses and to set up a website. Our local bus company at first refused to sell us ad space on the buses because the message was too political! I used my bureaucratic background to help convince them otherwise, and the ads were eventually placed on 5 City buses in Portland.

I also found my way into an interfaith peace group that was meeting at the local Friends Meeting House. These were my people, and I started to get involved in our local peace movement. Eventually I got tired of being the only Catholic at the table and looked into restarting our local Pax Christi chapter. Before I knew it, I'd become a bureaucrat by day and a peace activist in all of my other waking hours. One day it dawned on me that I should do something about that, which played a big part in the journey that has me here getting ready to celebrate another anniversary, my first as a vowed member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

It's eight years later, which is hard to believe.

  • 2,933 people died as a direct result of the attacks on the World Trade Center (source).

  • The Department of Defense confirms 4,343 US military deaths in Iraq to date (source).

  • The Department of Defence confirms 822 US military deaths in Afghanistan to date (source).

  • Documented civilian deaths in Iraq are between 93,042 and 101,539 (source). The actual number is far more (source).

  • At least 8,733 - 11,570 civilian deaths in Afghanistan were directly caused by the war. (source).
The numbers speak for themselves and only increase each year. On this anniversary day, please join me in praying for peace.

1 comment:

dmkorman said...

I could not agree with you more. Our conduct has been immoral and stupid. Shortly after the 09/11 attacks I read this great short piece:

"Bomb them with butter . . . ."
written by Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, Temple Beth Zion, Brookline, Mass.

A military response, particularly an attack on Afghanistan, is exactly what the terrorists want. It will strengthen and swell their small but fanatical ranks.

Instead, bomb Afghanistan with butter, with rice, bread, clothing and medicine. It will cost less than conventional arms, poses no threat of US casualties and just might get the populace thinking that maybe the Taliban don't have the answers. After three years of drought and with starvation looming, let's offer the Afghani people the vision of a new future. One that includes full stomachs.

Bomb them with information. Video players and cassettes of world leaders, particularly Islamic leaders, condemning terrorism. Carpet the country with magazines and newspapers showing the horror of terrorism committed by their "guest". Blitz them with laptop computers and DVD players filled with a perspective that is denied them by their government. Saturation bombing with hope will mean that some of it gets through. Send so much that the Taliban can't collect and hide it all. The Taliban are telling their people to prepare for Jihad. Instead, let's give the Afghani people their first good meal in years. Seeing your family fully fed and the prospect of stability in terms of food and a future is a powerful deterrent to martyrdom. All we ask in return is that they, as a people, agree to enter the civilized world. That includes handing over terrorists in their midst.

In responding to terrorism we need to do something different. Something unexpected. Something that addresses the root of the problem. We need to take away the well of despair, ignorance and brutality from which the Osama bin Laden's of the world water their gardens of terror.


If only our leaders had taken this wisdom to heart!

I often tell my undergraduate students that they should never worry about that science fiction scenario of outer space aliens looking for planets with intelligent life to invade. If such aliens exist, they have little reason invade us.

Best of regards, wishes and prayers- always.