Published October 7, 2021 – Lehigh Valley Live and Easton Express Times/Opinion.
On October 7, 2001, a lovely autumn Sunday, barely four weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 125 people gathered in Bethlehem’s Rose Garden to take 6000 symbolic Steps For Peace. People gathered to remember those killed in the horrific September attacks and hoping to help prevent future horrors. Eleven local groups sponsored the event in the Rose Garden, saying, “Our grief is not a cry for war.”
People who feared a response of revenge by our government had been speaking out since days after the attacks. LEPOCO (Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern) was one of many local and national groups calling for peace. LEPOCO’s statement on 9/18/01 closed: “While the men who rained terror from the clear blue skies on September 11 have stolen irreplaceable lives, valuable structures, and our sense of security, we can choose a rational response. We can pledge to break the cycles of violence and victims.”
Rep. Barbara Lee in the U.S. House of Representatives was the sole national leader calling for peace. Our country even ignored the calls for peace from among the people who had seen their loved ones die in the September attacks. Dozens of the survivors formed September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.
One voice from this group was Amber Amundson, widow of Craig Scott Amundson, a 28-year-old father of two young children, who lost his life at the Pentagon. Amber Amundson wrote on September 25th, “…because I have lost Craig as part of this historic tragedy, my anguish is compounded exponentially by fear that his death will be used to justify new violence against other innocent victims… Craig would not have wanted a violent response to avenge his death… We cannot solve violence with violence… We will no longer be able to see that we hold the light of liberty if we are blinded by vengeance, anger and fear…”
At the Rose Garden in 2001, we read the words of Amber Amundson and Rep. Lee, before taking the 6000 steps in silent meditation. We left the Garden that day buoyed by our commitment to nonviolence, but deeply saddened as we learned that the U.S. had just launched attacks on Afghanistan.
There have been many local actions for peace and an end to the forever wars since 2001: regular local peace vigils, hundreds have rallied for peace locally and marched with thousands at multiple demonstrations in New York City and Washington, DC., some sat-in at local congressional offices – all to say, “War is not the answer.”
The voices for peace have been heard from Afghanistan as well: from street children in Kabul crying out for peace with smiles and kites to hundreds of men walking miles through the countryside in the heat of summer calling for an end to war in 2018.
The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of August led to some reflection acknowledging the wisdom of Barbara Lee and others who opposed the war. Sadly though we continue the policies of vengeance, anger and fear that Amber Amundson questioned 20 years ago.
Before the U.S. could complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan we launched another drone strike — taking revenge for the horrible terrorist attack that killed 95 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. service members on August 27. We learned later that instead of plotting terrorists, our drone strike had killed 10 members of the Ahmadi family including seven children. The assumed terrorist was really an aid worker with a California-based charity.
It is hard to comprehend the losses from the post-9/11 wars: over 7000 U.S. service members died; 387,000 civilians killed; $14 trillion spent by the Pentagon. Any peace dividend appears illusive while the majority in Congress only wants to increase Pentagon spending.
Can we find our way to diplomacy, with an emphasis on human rights and humanitarian assistance? If we don’t decrease spending for war, how will we address climate threats, health and economic damage from the pandemic, the racial and economic divides facing so many in our country, and the need for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan? We must find rational ways to engage with the world and avoid further cycles of violence and victims.