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In the wake of 9/11 how will we choose to be?

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This op-ed was first published in the September 15, 2001, edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

As you read this my wife, Shonnie, will finally be home. That will never be said again for thousands of our fellow citizens.

I sit here by myself early Thursday morning. Over the past two days, I have moved from shock and numbness to a place of deep sadness and grief. I mourn for those who lost their lives or were injured in the suicide attacks. I mourn for those they left behind. I mourn for our nation. I mourn for those around the world who face the violence of terrorism on a daily basis.

I am lucky. Shonnie is en route from Denver to Asheville via Greyhound (a 36-hour journey) after having been stranded there because of the FAA's no-fly order. But she is coming home.

What happened on Tuesday was impossible for me to fully comprehend at first. I watched the 767 crash into the World Trade Center, but it was more like a rerun of some action flick than reality. Yet every time I heard a siren outside my Biltmore Avenue office, I was startled, thinking an attack might be underway in Asheville. Shonnie called from her dad's in Denver. I called my mom in Tennessee. She had talked to my daughter who lives outside Washington, D.C., and reported that she and her family were OK. I couldn't get through to any of my friends or relatives in the D.C. or New York City areas. I prayed they were safe. Folks in my office suite gathered to watch the tragic events unfold. Not much work got done that day.

On television I watch those who call for vengeance, an eye for an eye. And, yes, I'll admit, there is that part of me that wants a full measure of revenge right now. On the radio I hear those who call for stringent security measures in order to create a safer nation. And while I don't relish a three-hour wait each time I fly somewhere, I understand the desire for greater safety. I see leaders who believe we must increase our military might in order to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. And I recognize the need for us to be prepared.

Yet, I wonder: Will further violence bring an end to violence? Is any security measure going to bring us the safety we long for? Will a missile-defense system keep a small band of committed militants from their dastardly work?

One thing has been accomplished by the appalling actions of the terrorists: We have come together as a nation in support of those in need. We have opened our hearts. The best in us is evident in full measure. Heroic deeds; open-hearted prayers; evocative words; an outpouring of blood, money, and supplies. I feel pride in being an American, and I resolve to do more than simply writing these words and sending them out.

We have been dealt a horrendous blow. Our lives have been changed in ways yet to be fully revealed. Yet in the midst of all this turmoil, out of the darkness of these deeds, we are presented with a crucial choice. How will we ultimately respond to this egregious tragedy? What kind of world will we seek to create? I pray we choose wisely. I pray we choose well.

May God help us all.

If we practice and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless. ~Mahatma Gandhi

Postscript--September 11, 2016

9/11 presented us with an immense opportunity. A few days after that horrendous event I wrote that one thing had been accomplished by the appalling actions of the terrorists: We had come together as a nation in support of those in need. And not only that; the world community joined in mourning our loss. Many nations pledged their cooperation in confronting the challenge of terrorism, and we had considerable solidarity in this effort ... for a while.

In the months following 9/11, however, President George W. Bush hijacked our interval of unity. Intent on retribution, Bush, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and others told us that that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They were not. These same men told us that Iraq posed a grave threat to our nation. It did not. We were told our troops would be welcomed by the Iraqi people with open arms. They were not. We were told that weapons of mass destruction would be discovered in Iraq. They were not. We were told that the conflict would end quickly. It did not. We were told that selling Iraqi oil would pay for rebuilding that nation. It did not even come close, and the tab is still running.

The vast majority of the members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, bought into the propaganda put forth by the Bush Administration immediately after 9/11 and voted overwhelmingly to give President Bush a virtual blank check to go to war whenever, wherever, and however he saw fit. Of course, there are also the actions by Congress curtailing our civil liberties right here in the United States, such as the Patriot Act and the growing surveillance society, among others, but I'll save this discussion for another time.

The nation's mainstream media became the Administration's stenographers, merely repeating their pre-Iraq War propaganda and feeding it to us devoid of opposing views. I spoke out against the Iraq War before it began in my op ed "A few illogical arguments for the elimination of Saddam Hussein," that was published on October 12, 2002, in The Asheville Citizen-Times and on a number of progressive news websites.

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In an earlier incarnation, I was a hyper-masculine, self-indulgent, beer-swilling, hell-raising, pickup-truck-driving rebel (without much of a cause) who built log homes for a living. Having miraculously survived that era, I am now an (more...)

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