I’ve neglected mentioning here that I recently became a regular contributing member of the herd at Another Goddamned Podcast. This week’s podcast, which was published today, was recorded last Thursday, on September 11. In light of the significance of that date, the herd spent some time discussing some of the effects that 9-11 and its aftermath have had on the American political and social landscapes. When you’ve finished reading this post, head over to the podcast site and listen to what the herd said. Then, join the conversation by adding your comments. When you’ve done that, participate in one of our weekly quizzes. And when you’ve done that, cast your vote in our weekly poll.
– the chaplain
(NOTE: The post below was written by the deacon. As he noted in the post, he spent much of his time during and after 9-11 coordinating disaster relief services at the Pentagon. Strangely enough, as I post this article on his behalf today, he is in Texas providing similar services to victims of Hurricane Ike.)
This past week was the seventh anniversary of 9-11. With the dedication of the new memorial at the Pentagon many in the community became reflective. Radio and television stations carried features that drew my thoughts to that day.
Naturally, for many, their thoughts returned to what they were doing on that day cloudless day at the moments the aircrafts impacted the Pentagon and the twin towers, and when each of the towers fell before our eyes. My thoughts returned to rushing back to my office from an appointment, trying to get there by driving down back laneways, traveling down side streets to avoid main roads were choked with people exiting the city, and making two illegal turns. I recall running, between making phone calls, to instruct disaster relief crews where to deploy, and telling them that when they arrived at their station who had been designated as on-site commander. I vividly remember doing lists, on giant sheets of paper, of who had already arrived, who was on the way, and their anticipated arrival times, what they would be doing, and calling individuals on their cell phones to give them instructions as to what routes to take through security checkpoints. I recall appointing one individual at another office to order two giant circus-like tents, along with tables and chairs for 200 people, and asking them to be delivered as soon as possible, as well as what the rental company was to say to the Sergeant at the first checkpoint on the way toward the Pentagon.
I was just reacting without taking time to think through the meaning or significance of the day. I was pleased that the vendors we called took me at my word that I was who I claimed to be, who was my employer and to address the bills to me at my office. When a call came saying the Pentagon and FBI were asking for two semi-loads of ice, I just made it happen without giving it a second thought. It was not until nearly midnight that the significance of the ice request struck home.
The next morning via one of my staff, the chaplain sent down a change of clothing. Exhausted, I finally got out of the office on the afternoon of the twelfth. Before heading home to crash, I went to our incident command center where I was taken to the Pentagon and given a tour of what was happening. As we were walking along, the busy site went quiet. The two naval officers who where my escorts suddenly turned, stood at attention and saluted as the large US flag belonging to the Army band dropped down the side of the Pentagon. Needless to say, that was a deeply moving and humbling moment in my life.
Only days and weeks later did I start to think about the significance of that day and of what I had been an extremely small part. In the following weeks, various interpretations of 9-11 were articulated by religious leaders, political and community leaders, talking heads on television and the general public.
Some, in keeping with the national bent to view every great tragedy as a governmental conspiracy, put forward theories that the attacks were orchestrated by the current federal administration as a means to invade Iraq and engage with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Some evangelicals and fundamentalists, through the prism of faith, saw the attacks as divine retribution for the nation’s sins. Some of these took that reasoning at step further by defining those national sins as abortion, gay rights, banning prayer from schools and the availability of pornography. Such advocates never stopped to think that they were actually advocating against underlying constitutional principles that have made America a free society. None of them stopped to think that they were attacking the very freedom that grants them to right to gather for worship and to worship as they please.
Most interestingly, I never heard a religious official naming the sins of the church and its leaders. No one dared to point the blame to the church for a string of corrupt financial practices, for covering up sex crimes within their midst and allowing young people to be victimized again and again, for the fleecing of people by the promise that God will grant them miracles of healing if they only believe and send in financial gifts, a church leadership that frequently remains silent when a President or Congressional leader takes an unjust position, and the general lack of spiritual leadership. They could point to problems in the nature and conduct of people outside of the church, but they could not see their own hypocrisy.
Some saw the attacks as Islamic retribution for America’s unjust current and past foreign policies.
Still others blamed an industrial colonialist mentality of American industrial leaders. Others faulted this group or that group, or this position to the point that a list potential sources of blame would likely surpass five dozen.
People, especially those who are religious, seek to explain the 9-11 attacks in more global terms. Such explanations, even if they are clearly illogical, help to explain why God would allow the attacks to occur. Therefore, there has to a just cause and the attacks are some type of divine punishment.
What they fail to see is that that cruelty and vengeance occur all around us and injustice abounds because of self centered beings who are willing to trample upon others to gain their goals. People driven by their own base sinful nature cruelly lashes out at others, sometimes in subtle ways and at other times openly.
The challenge for each of us is in how we respond when confronted by such actions. We must resist passing down our anger from one generation to the next. We should not instill in our children and grandchildren the belief that they are duty bound to seek vengeance for wrongs done to past generations. We should instill in them that they are duty bound to live out their lives peacefully and with love to all.
This does not mean we should remain silent about injustices. Far from it. We must speak out against injustice wherever it is found. We can learn much from Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. regarding social advocacy through non-violent means. We must use the force of persuasive and humble speech, rather than the tools of extremism that forces the wills of the extremists upon others. Let us decry all forms of extremism, which tends to see those who are not like the extremists as the hated enemy, as those whom should be hated simply because they exist.
Also, we must fight the urge for revenge. Its violence consumes lives and turns hearts toward bitterness and hatred. Instead, let us draw toward compassion and love for those who are not like us. Lets us not shun them but be in dialogue with them. Let us get to know each other. One of the many lessons we should draw from 9-11 is that such attacks are never justifiable. Let us work together through non-violent means for a more just and compassionate future for all societies….a work that starts with how we interact with our family members and neighbors.
– the deacon