‘When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?’ -Eleanor Roosevelt
I was sitting in 8th grade English class when the principal came over the speaker system and informed us that there had been a terrorist attack in New York City. I had an Irish substitute teacher. I got goosebumps. I was still a kid. I was of the age that I was only beginning to be able to fully grasp the meaning an event of this kind of magnitude. The hate that created it. The hate that would created by it. It is my generation’s Kennedy assassination. The day is etched into my brain like almost every other American.
September 11th, 2001 brought the religion of Islam to the forefront of our consciousness. For many Americans, that day brought on revulsion for anyone that practiced it. It’s natural to feel anger to those responsible for killing innocent people and loved ones. But this allowed Americans to consent to a war they largely knew nothing about or the culture against which it was waged. These events have changed our lives forever.
Take my cousin for example. With only six months separating us in age and me being a natural tomboy, we were great friends as kids. When he was of age, he joined the National Guard. While I was tucked away safely at university, at the age of 20, he put a year on hold to serve in Iraq. It was the first time he ever left the country. My family held its collective breath while he was there. When he finally came back safely, he slowly told the stories about his experience. Instead of funny little anecdotes like I tell my family of my Peace Corps service, his were ones of the stench of human waste filling the streets, screams, dirty children that he could do nothing to help, and sand, so much sand. He told me once that he’s happy to be home and would be content to never leave it again. I cannot explain how much it saddens me that his travel was mostly one that reflected anger, on both sides, instead of exploration like mine. When I saw him over the holidays before I left for Thailand, he told me he was proud of what I was doing and he wished there were more people like me. As if it can even compare to his sacrifice.
On this day, one year ago, I gave my brother a hug and said goodbye. Though three years older than my cousin and I, my brother decided to follow in my cousin’s footsteps and join the army as well. Though his test results demonstrated he could be do anything from Special Forces, Linguist, all of the above, he decided to become a combat medic.
My brother is one of the most peaceable souls I’ve ever met. I should know, I agitated him enough to last a lifetime. He understands that he may have to defend himself, but he wants his job to be one of aid, helping his fellow soldiers in need. Finishing basic training and mid-way through advanced, my family was able to reunite for a short time during the holidays before my brother went to finish training and I left for Peace Corps. Now that his advanced training is completed, he waits for orders of deployment. It’s a very real possibility that I will not see him again before he leaves. I am terrified that I’ll never see him again. As you can imagine, I hope the war ends before that, for purely selfish reasons. Can you blame me?
Those responsible for the attacks in 2001 were successful in that they forever changed what we consider ‘normal.’ They wanted to start a war and they got one. The inadvertent effect was also changing the lives of their own people as well. Did they know that we would react with hate to the innocent people living peacefully within our country and theirs? How many people would stop trying to understand their perspective, culture, and religion because of the attack? How do they feel about Americans that killed their innocents? We can’t go back and change the past, but why haven’t we learned from it? Instead of a gun, why haven’t we tried to extend a hand of friendship? Why must we go to war to realize the horrors that come from it? Most importantly, how does a twenty-three year old infantryman have a greater understanding for the need of peace than government experts?
For those that have served, there is no way to express how much we can say ‘thank you.’ You have had the bravery that many can not claim to have. Your sacrifices will never be forgotten.
‘To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child.’ -Cicero