I woke up this morning on the verge of tears, with strains of the Star Spangled Banner in my head. I cried in the shower, inexplicably. I came down to work, and read today’s User Friendly, and burst into tears. I’m still getting teary when I look at it.
Last night I was getting ready for bed, and thinking about the reactions, world-wide and stateside. Thinking about the proclaimed war on terrorism, thinking about my belief that killing is wrong, thinking about how I couldn’t see a way to stop this kind of horror without more death, trying to reconcile my belief that killing people is a lousy way to change their minds with my belief that there is perhaps no other way to end this kind of behavior. Wondering if this was as painfully hypocritical as it seemed.
Then I thought about my grandfather, who emigrated from Ireland in the 1920s to find a better world than the war-torn one he was leaving. I thought about the fact that the Old Man believed fervently in the freedoms that we as a country have been granted, most particularly the freedom of speech. I thought of the Voltaire quote that embodies what the Old Man felt:
I do not aree with what you say, but I will fight to my death to defend your right to say it.
I grew up with that belief, the belief that your right to say what you want to say is sacrosanct. The belief that defending that right is worth dying for, and worth killing for.
So there are, after all, things that I feel are worth killing for. They are ideals, I grant you, high-falutin’ ideas that may not seem wildly practical, but they are meant to make the world a better place.
I believe that humanity’s right to live free from terror must be such an ideal. I believe that I would fight and kill and die, if I had to, to help prevent something like this from happening again. Maybe it’s too little, too late, a response dragged out of me because there was a horrible attack on American soil, but it is, at least, a beginning.
I grew up with an awareness of terrorism, because my grandpa did emigrate from a war-torn country, a country which to this day is ripping itself apart through terrorist acts. I have always been horrified and
bewildered by such behavior. I have never previously considered that the way to stop it might be wholesale war against the terrorists. I’m not sure it’s a good idea, but I’m not at all sure it’s a bad idea, either.
What I do know is that should we — and when I say we, I mean all the people of the world who don’t engage in this horrific behavior — should we choose this particular path, we must be so very, very careful about it. We are talking about fighting for an ideal, here. A world where children are not in danger when walking to school, a world where Hindus and Muslims are not harrassed for their religion or ethnicity, and most certainly, a world where mass murder on the scale of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks will never happen again. A handful of madmen are responsible for this insanity. It’s so incredibly vital that we seek them, and only them, out for justice. I said this yesterday, and I say it again now: anything else puts us on exactly the same level as the maniacs, and the people who have died deserve so much better than that.
The bitter thing about a war, any war, is that you will leave behind the widows and the children of those you have killed. How can you expect those children to grow up without hatred, when you’ve taken away their brothers and fathers and uncles? The only possible way I see is to try to take no more lives than is necessary, and to try very hard to offer the survivors support to carry on. This behavior was relatively successful fifty years ago in Germany and Japan; it’s the only thing I can think of to do now. I don’t know if it will work. I do know that if we believe ourselves to be civilized and superior to terrorists, it’s the only thing we can do.
In the past three days, much of the world has come together in anguish and disbelief, mourning as one. People of every nationality and ethnic background died in the WTC towers; people of every country and religion have wept openly over the magnitude of this attack. We are more alike than different. If we can learn that, remember that, for more than a few days or weeks, if this is a lesson we can learn that will reach down through years and decades, then perhaps something good has come of so many deaths.
We can make the world a better place. When we work together, we do phenomenal things in very little time. We’ve filled bloodbanks, we’ve raised millions and millions of dollars for disaster relief, we’ve reached out across the country and across the world to offer support and friendship. The newspapers and tv and radio keep saying the world is a different place now, that we can never go back.
All changed, changed utterly:
A terribly beauty is born.
I’m afraid that they’re wrong. Oh, some things will never be the same: the twin towers, the heroic buildings, are gone, and when they are rebuilt they will be taller, stronger: monuments to what they were. The Pentagon will be — should be — forever scarred, a reminder of what it is: a place where war is made. The lives lost can never be replaced and will never be forgotten.
But I’m afraid that in a month or six weeks or six months, we will have forgotten the passion, the belonging to a community that is much larger than our immediate family, our hometown, or our state. I’m afraid that we’ll slip back into the complacency that we’re so accustomed to. I’m
afraid that blood banks will again be in desperate need of blood, and the world will go on as it did last week, thinking, “I could do that, but I’m sure someone else will.”
I am afraid we will have forgotten that we are all members of a global community, bound more tightly to one another than we had known. I’m afraid that we’ll learn again to look the other way, and that is the saddest thing I can imagine.
We have so much power, so much potential, and so much ability to care. This is proven every time there is a disaster of any sort: people suddenly are moved to do, instead of talk. I think the greatest legacy we could offer the victims of Tuesday’s attacks would be to fight off complacency’s shroud when it begins to settle around our shoulders again. I think the greatest thing we could do is continue to care as much as we do right now.
Poetry: Easter 1916 William Butler Yeats (full text here)