12 Years Later ... Thoughts on Seeking Peace in a Post 9/11 World

Twelve years ago today my heart was both broken and awoken to my call to seek peace in our wounded world.  I've written before on the blog about how I became a peace activist twelve years ago on September 11, 2001.  In many ways, the seeds of my vocation as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace were also planted in my heart that day, although it took a few years for my head and feet to catch up.

Like most of you, I woke up that morning to news of the terrorist attacks in New York City and shared the traumatic experience of watching the second plane hit the tower on the television set.  Now that I am in grad school and have friends who were children at that time, I'm realizing how much violence and war in our response to terrorism have become embedded in our national story, our lives, our memory in the past 12 years.  It is the air we breath, and we must reflect on the consequences, not only in terms of the actions perpetrated in our name, but also the weight of responsibility we carry and the impact on our very soul as nation, citizens, and members of the human family.

The landscape has shifted in disturbing ways:

  • The majority of Americans apparently now think that torture is acceptable.  Contrast this to the loud, clear, and strong voice of the global community (led by our own Eleanor Roosevelt) in 1948's Universal Human Rights Declaration which said: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."  Yet in the wake of 9/11 and our obsession with security grounded in fearmaking, such inhumane and degrading treatment has not only been utilized repeatedly against other human beings "suspected" of terrorism, it has become normalized and, God-literally-forbid, "acceptable."
  • Killing has become mechanical, something done at a distance with a joystick and a computer screen, like playing a video game. I'm speaking of course about the increased used of Drones and President Obama's "targeted killing" campaign.  Imagine bombs dropping from unseen mechanical air planes in the sky at a family gathering (BBQ, picnic, wedding) because the leader of another nation "suspects" that your crazy aunt's husband maybe committed a crime, or maybe even just talked someone else into doing so.  This is essentially what is happening, daily, in your name.  Will the bomb just magically seek out and find its "target," your weird Uncle Boris? Or might your niece, nephews, and cousins running playfully in a circle around his lawn chair be harmed in the process.  This example might seem contrived, and too human.  But the killing, dare I say murder, done in our name has become too removed, sanitized  and mechanical, and countless civilians have been killed, their homes destroyed, in the process.  We need to wake up to this world (and war) changing reality that is before us and funded by our tax dollars.
  • And now, on the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, our nation stepped away from the brink of war, from the use of violence to revenge violence.  I am so struck that, at least to my knowledge, there was little to no reflection on the tragic irony that our nation was contemplating an orchestrated campaign of death-dealing "military strikes" (again, the sanitized words mask what that means--bombs that would have at a minimum killed someone's 18 year old cousin who joined the army because his father was in the army, not the "masterminds" of the use of chemical weapons we are seeking to bully) on this day.  Have we learned nothing? Have we forgotten?  Or has the use of our military might in a futile attempt to seek security become so commonplace, so embedded into our psyche that we don't even realize that September 10th (Obama's speech) is the day before September 11th, the 12th anniversary of the fateful day when our nation was attacked and senseless violence came to our shores. President Obama and the White House either ignored it or didn't care, because there was no mention of this anniversary in his speech, other than to refer to our death dealing actions in response: "I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan." 
Speaking of his speech, President Obama did say this:
To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.
Point taken.  I also picture in my heart and mind the millions of children displaced, left orphaned, or killed by U.S. military action across the globe.  I also picture in my heart and mind the children in our own country who will go hungry as food stamps are cut to fund our death-dealing-military budget.  I also picture in my heart and minds eye the children who lost one or both parents in the "wars on terror," either serving for our nations' military or for the other side.  Death and suffering is death and suffering.  We can't pick and choose which civilians we will have compassion for.  We can't decide to honor the dignity of this group because of the way they were killed, and ignore that the "collateral damage" of our own violent actions aren't also "children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor."  We just don't see it, because we've become desensitized and sanitized our own methods of dealing death to "protect" our own freedom and security.

And so I pray. For peace in our troubled world.  For an awakened heart and conscience on the part of our political leaders and indeed on the part of the American people.  That we may accept the responsibility of what has been done in our name and commit all our efforts instead to building true peace built on justice. I pray for all the lives lost and forever changed through terrorism and the wars on terror.  I pray for dialogue and diplomacy, not bombs and death.  I pray in hope and gratitude for people of good will from every nation, race, creed and way of being. That peace may come, that we may help to bring about that peace. Amen.


Erin Keefer said...

This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...


Anonymous said...

I thank God, thank Pope Francis and thank Russia that the strike was averted. But our hands are not clean. We are witnesses to the torture and killing in Syria and all over the world and responding like Job's "friends" by wagging our fingers and telling the suffering that they are not living right.

Most of the conflicts in the world today are not between countries, but between different factions within a country, and the UN,is clearly impotent in dealing with these situations. We are haunted by the Holocaust and should be to the end of time. But what have we learned about the responsibility of the witness?

For the moment, I'm sticking with Mary who bore her 7 sorrows as a witness.