I remember exactly where I was the morning of September 11, 2001. I was asleep in bed when my telephone rang, stirring me from a pleasant early morning slumber.
“I’m glad I finally got through to you. We’re OK,” the voice on the phone line said. It was a familiar voice with an unfamiliar tone.
My most intelligent reply was, “Huh?”
“They don’t know for sure where the other plane is right now, but they don’t think it’s heading to California. So we’re going on toward the college. I thought you’d want to know we’re safe.” This was the voice of my partner of several years, calling from a college scouting road trip with the grand daughter in central California .
“What are you talking about?” I responded rather indignantly, because I despised being awakened by a phone.
“Don’t you have the TV on?” the now impatient and anxious voice replied. “We’re under attack. Someone just flew two planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York and a third plane is missing in the air.”
I proceeded to spend the entire day with my eyes transfixed to the television set, staring in horror as one TV station after another replayed video footage of planes exploding and people running and stumbling in shock on the streets of New York City and in and around the Pentagon. The entire country stood in painful disbelief that such an atrocity could happen on our democratic soil. Businesses closed, airports shut down, and the normal bustle of the cities was silenced, as if ghost towns had replaced once vibrant areas of commerce. Only those of us who worked in “essential services” i.e., hospitals, firemen, policemen, etc., reported for duty as usual. But nothing would ever be “as usual” again in America. We no longer felt “safe”.
On the 5th anniversary of what will forever be known by the numbers 9/11, I find it only fitting to take pause and remember what happened on that horrific, September day. I take pause to remember THIS day as I would any other traumatic or tragic anniversary. I pause just as I do every December 14th (the day my sister was killed in an auto accident), or February 11th (the day of my mother’s sudden death), and so on. I pause, not only to pay tribute to the many lives lost that day, but also to be thankful for the wonderful gifts that still remain in my life…gifts that feel even more precious to me since September 11, 2001.
I also can’t help but ponder in my “pause” how or why such events happen in this world and I am truly saddened by the answers I see around me. I will not write today in a manner that might seem callous to the deceased and victims of September 11, 2001, but rather speak my thoughts openly about the living…it is, after all, the LIVING who must learn from our mistakes.
I have had to turn my television off this weekend because my stomach can no longer contain the bile that rises in my throat every time I hear, “The War On Terror” in relation to the 9/11 attacks. This sentence and the rhetoric that accompanies it not only saddens me deeply, but also causes a shiver to run violently up my spine. And this sentence is being repeated over and over and over again as the United States remembers the attack on our great nation five year’s ago.
“The War On Terror”…I resort once again to consult with dear Merriam Webster. This wonderful dictionary defines WAR as: (1) : a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations (2) : a period of such armed conflict (3): the art or science of warfare 2 a : a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism b : a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end.
Furthermore, Merriam Webster defines TERROR as: 1 : a state of intense fear
2 a : one that inspires fear b : a frightening aspect <the terrors of invasion> c : a cause of anxiety d : an appalling person or thing 3 : violence (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands <insurrection and revolutionary terror>
OK, someone may want to call Homeland Security now before I go any further, because I’m certain I am about to piss somebody off somewhere! If you look quite literally and closely at the words “war” and “terror” and combine the definitions of the words in a working sentence, it would go something like this: “Declared, hostile and conflicting antagonism ON a state of intense fear.” In even simplier terms, one could say “we” are fighting hostily against our own fears…we are, in essence, battling against a FEELING!!!
A wise world leader once said (and that leader would be one of our very own presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt), “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” My, but he had wisdom and wasn’t afraid to show it! President Roosevelt didn’t have any degrees in psychology, but even he knew there was no army large enough or powerful enough to win a war on fear…even he knew there were no bombs or rockets large enough that could anhilate this feeling.
I am here to tell you…and let me clear my throat and speak loudly…NO ONE WILL EVER WIN A WAR AGAINST TERRORISM…no matter how many bodies are bloodied, tortured, burned, or buried. Because terrorism is a feeling, not something material or tangiable and feelings cannot be destroyed. Hearts can be changed, feelings altered, and behaviors modified, but treating a feeling as if it is a noun is just plain crazy.
Back in the days when land was plentiful and still under discovery, people fought over physical boundaries and ownership. This practice still goes on in the United States, except we like to call it “Gang Warfare” now. We have always fought over “stuff”…land, material possessions, boundaries, oil, etc. World War II was one of the first wars fought over “ideals”…the United States engaged in this war to assist in bullying a bully who was killing innocent Jews because of a twisted “ideal”. We were no longer fighting for “stuff” but rather had shifted to fighting over “idealogies”. That’s not to say there were not other wars preceding WWII that also contained conflicts of idealogy, but WWII solidified the United States to fight for a “cause”. There WERE material possessions fought over in WWII, however…these were the LIVES of thousands of believers of the Jewish faith…their literal bodies.
A war can only be “won” when one side has something to lose and the other has something to gain. The loss can be material, bodily, or idealistic…same goes for the gain. The trouble I have with the rhetoric on this so called “War On Terror” is, it appears the United States and it’s people are the only side that has something to “lose”. We are afraid to lose our possessions, our freedoms, our ideologies, and our lives. We present ourselves as a country that has everything to lose and only a false sense of security to gain.
Suicide bombers, no matter what their religion or faith (as I will not focus on ANY religion here), approach their mission with everything to gain. In the scheme of things or the big picture, their loss of life is actually perceived as a mighty gain. They BELIEVE that in givingup their physical life, the afterlife rewards will be much greater. This ideology is engrained. They override the reflexive fear of death with the power of their mind…with the strength of their conviction. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Now, please do not misinterpret me here. I am in NO WAY condoning the hostile act of suicide or mass murder via suicide. I am in NO WAY condoning ANY hostile act against human life (or any other form of life, for that matter). I am simply trying to provide example of how and why we can never win a “War On Terror” by fighting a physical war. We can’t irradicate terror or the feeling of terror by taking possessions or eliminating the lives of others.
Ah, to live in Utopia. Wouldn’t it be just peachy if we could “all just get along”? I doubt Rodney King knew how famous that sentence would become when he spoke out during the riots in Los Angeles…but it is simple truth and simple wisdom. We DO need to all just get along. So how do “we” do this?
“We” do this by first becoming individuals and THEN becoming part of the mass collective. “We” start with ourselves and work outward. “We” start with confronting our own, individual fears and maybe, just maybe, believing that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”We” start believing again in our basic human values. “We” start replacing our fear with faith (and I ain’t talkin’ religion here, either). “We” begin to accept our shortcomings and our mistakes, and work towards greater acceptance of ourselves. “We” strive to be a better person, always open to learning and experience. And then “we” join the mass collective and bring all of these things into the group, accepting and growing in our differences and our similarities. “We”, as a nation, stop acting like angry, righteous children and stop bullying the kids who look different than us..."we" stop pushing them down on the play ground and taking their candy.
Maybe there are “bad seeds” born into this world that no amount of tolerance, education, or acceptance can cure. It’s really hard for me to “go there” as a basic believer of behaviorist theory. I have worked with children and adolescents (and some adolescent adults, too!) enough over the past 20 years to know reshaping takes a tremendous amount of patience and time…relearning doesn’t occur overnight…restructuring the human psyche is a tedious process. Such is the way of changing our world, too.
My mother used to respond to her children’s verbal bickering or fighting with this sentence: “If you kids want to fight, go to the basement.” I didn’t know how wise she was at the time when she would make this statement, but I smile knowingly now. We knew right away what she meant when she would make this statement and we WOULD at least stop the outward verbal sparing. You see….we didn’t HAVE a basement in our house.
So, I leave YOU with this final thought about the “War On Terror”…If you kids want to fight, go to the basement. My mother should have ran for president of the United States...