Disclaimer: What I write on this blog is my opinion and is not meant to represent my congregation or Unitarian Universalism as a whole. You can be UU and disagree completely with me! 🙂
Even though I felt some pressure to join in the remembering, I didn’t write yesterday. Like many people, I started my day being bombarded by images from five years ago, complete with catchy theme music and some strange mix of sensationalism and somberness. I listened to public radio and heard arguments and memories. I cried a little, but I raged a lot. I raged because I saw how the memory of that terrible day and the nearly 3,000 dead are being used–for ratings, for mid-term election politicking, for fear-mongering–yet again. I heard our President say, “There are still people out there who want to come and kill your children” and I cringed.
This morning I read this commentary from Keith Olbermann and realized it said much of what I am feeling. Then I listened to a portion of The Diane Rehm show and heard her interview with Mark Kurlansky, author of Nonviolence (Modern Library). Diane asked Mr. Kurlansky an interesting question: What would you have done after 9/11 if you had been the leader of the free world? I wasn’t impressed by Mr. Kurlansky’s answer, but I loved the question. So I share it with you. What would you have done?
Here is the beginning of my answer:
- First, something I would NOT have done: I would not have squandered the world’s caring and sympathy after the terrorist attack. I would have reached out and tried to build a world coalition that would address terrorism, find and punish those responsible, and consider appropriate consequences for countries that support terror–either directly or by turning away when terrorists live, work, and train in their borders. I would have expressed our nation’s gratitude for the world’s outpouring of caring and I would have used it to galvanize a new resolve among the nations that terrorism would not be ignored, nor tolerated.
- I would have declared thirty days of national mourning. During this time, I would have encouraged artists, thinkers, leaders, and companies–no matter their political affiliation or philosophy–to consider what they could do to respond to the tragedy. I would have asked those who study religion to create educational materials about Islam and distribute them to the American people. I would have asked those who study psychology, grief, and human behavior to suggest ways for people to channel their sadness, grief, and rage into activities that would provide healing. I would have asked the American people to show the world that we could rise above the impulse toward vengeance and create opportunities for healing and growth.
- I would have commissioned a group of New York artists and architects to design memorials for the three attack sites and I would have secured funding to build and open them as soon as possible, perhaps by the first anniversary of the attack. I would make them National Monuments and ask that they always be open to the public at no charge. I would personally oversee a ceremony of dedication that would make it clear that while we grieve, the American spirit is alive and well and the American commitment to freedom and democracy still thrives.
- I would have asked the leaders of every community in this nation to take up a new task–to help build bridges of understanding and caring among the people in their cities. I would ask them to create and implement a plan for building connections across difference–festivals, study groups, book groups, neighborhood clean-ups, whatever activity might help people get to know and come to care about people that had always been a remote “them.” I would have used the trillions of dollars we have spent on war to fund initiatives that helped build on the strengths (and rebuild where necessary) our communities.
- I would have made peace in the Middle East the number one foreign policy goal of my administration and would have worked tirelessly toward that goal. I would have used the peace process to legitimize the leadership of peacemakers, while making clear that the tactics of terrorists and extremists are not effective means to positive change in the region. I would have called on the leadership of those who cared more about the lives of their children and the future of humanity than their own personal vendettas and agendas to lead us toward a future of peace. I would pledge that wherever a peace treaty was signed and honored, American development dollars would follow. I would invest in peace rather than war.
Those are my first thoughts. As I wrote them I realized that most of them could still be implemented. I think it’s time the American people insist that something good come out of September 11th. George Bush has wasted five years and I believe he’s used the power of the presidency only to benefit himself and his cronies. It’s time for apathy to be replaced by determination–insistence–that we truly honor those who died by helping to make the world a safer and more sane place for us all.