Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rembering 9/11

This morning, September 11, 2011, I woke early, just as I did exactly ten years ago; unlike then, though, I did not turn on the television. Funny how habits form; I realized later on that I haven’t watched early morning TV since that day. Maybe it’s some unconscious superstition; if I don’t turn the TV on and hear bad news, it won’t happen.

After a light breakfast, I went off to a local home for the elderly to attend a commemoration service for the Battle of Britain. Throughout the service, though, my thoughts kept wandering to that morning as I watched in horror that plane knifing into the second tower in New York City; horror and disbelief, even though I and many of my colleagues had known for some time that such an attack was possible. As I heard speakers talk of the gallant sacrifices of young men and women of the British and Commonwealth Air Forces in defending not just Britain but the free world, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities and differences between the two events. Both saw the forces of freedom and democracy pitted against the darker forces of repression and dictatorship, but unlike the RAF and Commonwealth aviators who volunteered to step (or fly) into the maws of death, the victims of 9/11, except for those killed in the Pentagon attack, were non-combatants who did not volunteer to put their lives on the line. They were innocent victims who had done nothing other than be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

It would be all too easy to let anger be the primary emotion when I think of 9/11, and I truly was angry in the hours immediately after the attacks, but I’ve reconciled my feelings. Rather than be consumed by hatred and anger, or obsessing over why some people hate us, I’d rather devote myself to trying to identify the root causes of such behavior, and develop ways to change things. This doesn’t mean that I think terrorists should be given a pass for the evil deeds they commit. Terrorist networks should be detected, disrupted, dissuaded, or failing dissuasion, destroyed, and, that includes through military means when no other method works. But, I don’t think this should be the first or principal goal. We need to learn why people resort to such measures, and try to give them alternatives. I haven’t discovered the method yet; because, I still don’t fully understand what drives a person to such hatred and desperation that he or she would willingly die just to kill those deemed ‘enemy.’ Part of my problem is I have not yet figured out what it is I’m supposed to be an enemy to or against. It’s not Islam; I have the utmost respect for Islam as a religion, and though I don’t believe church and state should be so intermingled, I respect the right of those who do believe thus to practice it if they wish. When I have it figured out, maybe I’ll be on the way to determining how we can prevent future 9/11s.

One thing I do know is that one element that breeds such behavior is intolerance. The inability to accept differences, religious or political, leads far too often to violence against the ‘other’ side in the debate. It leads to the desire to punish, to extract vengeance, ‘an eye for an eye.’ The unfortunate result is a seemingly unending cycle of violence – we all become blind.